Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Nalle Colt - Vintage Trouble - The Rock Guitar Daily Interview

Photo by Neil Kitson
Vintage Trouble is perhaps the world's biggest unsigned act, and that's no mistake. From day one they've done things their own way, and it worked like a charm for the hard working four piece from Los Angeles. Having played for millions of fans over the last few years to taking over the late night airwaves, the band has played their cards to perfection. Now, it's time for all that to change.

Nalle Colt is the band's guitarist, and writer of some of the sharpest dressed rock to find its way into the public consciousness in ages. He explained to me recently how the band's hard work, and the guidance of maybe the best management team on the planet (McGhee Entertainment) has led them to their next chapter and their second album, and perhaps a date with the unlikely, but incredibly impressive pairing of Jack White and Don Was. Nalle also told me how he came to the Les Paul, Revival Amps, and he delivered a great message on the power of hard work and gratitude.

Vintage Trouble has had the opportunity to play with some of the biggest and the best - they've shared stages with The Rolling Stones, Bon Jovi, Lenny Kravitz, Robert Cray, and others, but I started things off by asking what it was like to watch Pete Townshend and The Who for 50 nights:

Nalle Colt: "Watching Pete play every night was such an awesome experience. He's such a simple, straight to the point kind of guy. And, what a rhythm player! I think I got a whole new picture of rhythm playing that I never thought of before from the way he plays. 
"That was truly special, and I actually think I'd have to say, I always listened to The Who, but I was never a massive fan. I didn't know much about them, personally. So everything was kind of new to me when we started off. To find out about these guys and what they are all about was so inspiring and influential to me. 
"First of all, you have the production of touring around with these guys - they've been doing it for a few years, so they really know how to do it! Such a true inspiration. I listen to a lot of Who these days! 
"To see what a force they are, the music....before the tour, when I listened to The Who, I think I listened to them very one dimensionally. You can get a very simple view of their music, but when you realize how truly complex their music is, and what a stunning songwriter Pete Townshend is,it's awesome in so many ways. 
"We are still feeling very blessed that they picked us to do that. It's almost overwhelming, you know?"

It can seem like Vintage Trouble was born at the top of the heap, but the band has labored hard to get where they are - in fact it's been a very steady four year climb for the band, and they've done it by converting every opportunity into a victory. I asked Nalle how it felt to be on the inside of such a rocket shot:

Nalle Colt: "(laughs) I was just talking to my girl about this the other night! When you are inside of something, it's almost...I don't know how to easiest explain it to someone who might not play music. 
"I'm very critical, I've been part of a lot of music, starting up bands, and setting things up. I'm very specific as to what I am looking for, what we try to aim at. At the end of the day, you throw it at the wall, and hopefully, it sticks! 
"I just couldn't believe the response - to this day, that we have received from all over the place, and I am so grateful. 
"I'm just a musician, and we try to do the best we can - and this amazing response we've had from everyone, from Leno, Letterman, to The Who, The Stones, Bon Jovi, Brian May, Lenny Kravitz, all these people supporting us and believing in what we do is just incredible! 
"It makes you really respect, and I think I speak for all four of us in the band, that we got so much respect out of it, we really want to work harder and make it better - really work up to what people expect us to do now. 
"It makes you want to be better. I constantly feel like when we perform now, we really need to step up and prove to these people that we actually are what we say we are."
Photo by Adam Kennedy
Vintage Trouble is anything but an overnight sensation, though it can appear that way to the most casual observers - actually the band's members have been at it for decades. Nalle and lead vocalist/frontman extraordinaire Ty Taylor had worked together for years before landing on the right mix of people with VT:

Nalle Colt: "Yeah, all four of us, individually have worked for so long in the music business. I worked as a hired gun for a while, I had loads of bands of my own. 
"Ty had endless performances - he's been in theater a lot, Broadway, and so many different things. 
"I think we've definitely paid our dues, and when we got together, we brought all of our experiences together, and we knew that it takes a lot of hard work. 
"It's not just about performances - we run our own record label, we run our own merchandising, our own fan club, we do it all by ourselves. It takes a lot, but we love it. I knew when we put the band together that was a main idea to throw out - were we willing to give it everything? It's a 24/7 job."

If there's anything here for anyone, this may be it - the message that this is the music business of the 21st century, it is exactly what you make of it. There's little handholding to be done, and there's little external support to be found. In the case of Vintage Trouble, they hand built it, but even they knew they needed one very important factor - good management:

Nalle Colt: "I do want to add that we have a great manager (Doc McGhee), and without him we wouldn't be where we are today, he's an amazing guy. 
"We knew walking into this that we needed more than having a record label, we needed a great manager, who we could talk to, who loved music, who has ambition, and could lead us in a great direction. We met Doc McGhee, and a lot of things changed for us. 
"He has the force, and he's been in this business for a long time, he knows the right people. It was good, because he said, 'I can take you there, but then you have to prove you can do it,' and we said, 'Absolutely.' 
"So, he gave us a chance, and we took it, and we've proven that we could do it. He was the one that got us on the Bon Jovi tour early on, and it was a big step. Coming from playing little clubs in Los Angeles to suddenly standing in front of 75,000 people, but we proved that we could do it! 
"We said, 'No problem, we'll just take what we have from the club experience and bring it to the stadium, and it worked! Bon Jovi was super happy, and we had a great tour together. It was ana amazing experience to jump into something that large. To be a part of a production in that way, we learned so, so much from it. 
"We've been very lucky because of these early tours and proving we could do it - a lot of booking agents have seen that we can do it, and they've given us some amazing opportunities, and we've taken them!"

Vintage Trouble is a band that defines chemistry - they play music that may not sound sophisticated until you try to play it. Not unlike such super-bands as AC/DC and ZZ Top, they are so good at what they do that they make it sound easy. I asked Nalle if this was apparent from their first experiences together:

Nalle Colt: "Yeah, absolutely! 
"But, it was yes, and no - I'd say that three quarters of The Bomb Shelter Sessions were written before we ever played together. When we brought them in, within the first five minutes that we played together we knew we were a unit. It had an exceptionally different sound to it. 
"Do you play music yourself? (I confirm that I have for many years - TC) 
"Awesome! Well then you know, as far as musicians, you know how when you start playing with some new people, and you go, 'Wow! There's something special here!' 
"I love it - they (drummer Richard Danielson and bassist Rick Barrio Dill) brought in something that I didn't really envision from the beginning, I think. 
"Richard is a kind of guy who, if I throw him maybe just like a regular blues shuffle thing, he might go, 'Well, how about if I turned the beat around,' and he flipped the beat completely around, and it was like, OK! And it would just come out amazing! 
"Same with Rick - we're a simple band, it's basically just a three piece with a vocal, and when I first envisioned it, I'm a big blues fan, and I love....when I would picture a bass player who kind of holds down the fort, but when I started playing with Rick, he's more of an R&B/soul type of guy, and when I pitch things to him, he would take it another way, which was awesome! 
"That's how the music really came through. We are four very different musically styled people, and in the way we gathered around this music - it came out in such a great way. I hope we never change, because I love this kind of semi-friction look and music, it creates what we have, and I love it. 
"I hope we can keep it this way, and we've been writing so much new music - it's still coming out that way, and it's a beautiful thing. 
"I love that I can throw out an idea to them, and they will take it in a whole different way than I thought I pictured it from the beginning. It comes out even better! 
" Yeah, it's a great way, and I think as a guitar player, the initial thing that you would think of a rhythm section is, 'Oh nice, they can back me up at whatever I do,' but I believe they take it in a different way. It comes out different in the style of music that we play, and I love - they have created something different."
Photo by Hans-W. Rock
Nalle had mentioned the fact that Vintage Trouble is a trio with a vocalist out front, and as anyone who's tried it can tell you, it's a supreme challenge for a guitarist to work with just a drummer and bass. It's not as easy as they make it sound, and I asked Nalle if he ever found that challenge to be daunting:

Nalle Colt: "Absolutely! 
"Originally, when we first started we found that the four of us have this awesome love for early mid-50s recordings. I'm talking about Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, all those early recordings, and oh yeah, Ike and Tina Turner, and even Ike Turner before Tina. It really has this rawness to it, it's really bare. 
"I try to approach the guitar in that way, and it's scary sometimes, because it's very wide open. Especially when we are in the studio. Of course, as a guitar player, you're always leaning towards doing some overdubs, and kind of creating a soundscape. Initially, we were like, 'No - let's just keep it to what we're doing live. 
"Yeah, it's a little daunting, but it's fun in another way because it approaches all your guitar thinking in a way. Like, can this truly stand, alone? I try not to think of my electric guitar playing when we write now. I write with Richard and Rick in mind, so I'm making up parts that if I just played it on the guitar by myself, it really wouldn't hold up, because we need the bass, and I need the drums to make it a full picture. 
"I approach the guitar like a semi-horn section, semi-keyboard lines, and let Rick almost take over like being a bass and a rhythm guitar!"

I suggest that that approach is already in evidence on Vintage Trouble's newer material, in both his chord voicings, and the fact that the guitarist has recently added a classic piece of guitar gear to his repertoire, the Fender Vibratone - a rotating, Leslie-type speaker cabinet which has been used by such players as David Gilmour, Mike Campbell, and most notably, Stevie Ray Vaughan on his his Cold Shot:

Nalle Colt: "Yes, thank you! That is definitely the approach I'm trying to take as the guitar player! 
"The chords, like you mentioned, the voicings, I'm always trying to think that if Rick can kind of hold down the lows, I can stay on all the triads, and stay kind of out of the root of the note. Approach it more like a keyboard guy, more on the top chords, and it will cut through more. Yeah, that's been my thing, and I'm trying to hone in on it on all our newer recordings. 
"A big part of my playing now, I brought in an old Vibratone guitar Leslie that I use - I try to think of how a B-3 organ guy would use his Leslie, you know, the fast, and the slow sounds. You can create a pre-chorus to a chorus, and use the effect of an old Vibratone. I love old organic effects, I'm not a big guy for spacey effects - I used a lot of them through my years of playing guitar, but with this band, I wanted to stay away from that and keep it really simple. 
"I try to be very sparse with delays, and just use organic sounds, more like a Jimmy Page king of approach. Keep it raw, and the guitar Leslie has been a great help to create some kinds of bigger sounds."

Another addition to Nalle's gear lineup that I noticed on the band's final Leno appearance was that of several Revival Amps, a new company out of Southern California, started this year by guitarist Drew Shirley of the band Switchfoot, Scott White, and Eric Berns. I found Colt's tone on this particular show to be a bit punchier, and pronounced than in the past:

Nalle Colt: "Yup! Those are some new guys I kind of approached, I met them on The Who tour, actually. 
"I met the guy, he kind of approached me, and he had some really nice things to say about our music, and that he liked what I was doing. He was talking about these amps, he kind of explained to me what they were, and I loved it right away. 
"I like amps that are very bare. I like one volume, and one tone control, that's it. If there are too many knobs on an amp, I just keep fiddling with it. I like it really easy. 
"I usually use a Les Paul, and I turn down the volume on the guitar and have the amps turned up loud, until they are almost to the breaking point. He was telling me that he was designing these five watt amps, so you could run them on ten. They were designed by kind of copying the old White Amps (made by Fender in the mid-50s, and named to honor Fender production manager Forrest White). I didn't know much about them, but I kind of researched it. 
"So, he called me not long ago, and said that he had finally made his amps, and he wanted me to try them. I work with a guy in England (Jesse Hoff) called Lazy J, who makes tweed amps very much like the old Tweed Deluxe, and I love those amps. I've been touring with them for years, and they've been holding up really well. I wanted something that I could kind of use that would be something different from the Lazy J - something that had a little more grit to it, more of a pointy sound, and the Revival has that. 
"I was very excited to try them, so I bought two of his amps, and I tried them on the Leno show we did a few weeks ago. I really liked it! So, now I should take them out for a whole tour - I don't know if I'm going to use two of those, I usually like two amps plus the Vibratone, or I could try the Revival and a Lazy J, and come to see what I land on. But it's such a great tone - simple, and straight ahead. 
"I'm sure that as a guitar player you know that with different amps, some amps are faster, and some react more slowly, depending on the tubes. The Revival is a very fast amp - it reacts very quickly, it has 6V6 tubes in it, and it reacts very fast to the type of playing that I do, so I really like it. I can basically play this amp on ten, and I can turn down my guitar. It's a nice approach, very raw, very straight ahead. I kind of get a tone between Ike Turner and Jimmy Pages (laughs)!"

It's great to see a guy who knows how to get the most out of the venerable Gibson Les Paul - many think it's only good for over the top rock, but many of its leading proponents, such as Jimmy Page and Billy Gibbons, have long realized that when you clean them up a bit, they present themselves very well:

Nalle Colt: "That was fun too, actually! 
"I never played Les Pauls, I'd been a Strat, and Telecaster guy my whole life, even when I played with heavier bands. I actually would bring in my Telecaster, trying to force it in there to keep kind of a single coil sound in my approach. I always stayed away from Les Pauls because I'm a hard hitting guy, I was inspired by old blues guys, and Albert King, and even when Stevie Ray Vaughan came around, there was something about hitting the guitar hard. I always felt uncomfortable with a Les Paul, because it's a guitar you need to be very gentle with - it's very dynamic. 
"So, I had this friend who worked for Guitar Center, he was a Les Paul guy, and he was always trying to help me, if I ever bought one. He called me one day about six years ago, and he said that he has a guitar that had gotten returned to Guitar Center, a guy had bought it and returned it. He said it was a great guitar, and I should pick it up, because GC was dumping the price on it. 
"I went, and I bought it - I took it home, and I couldn't really play it, so I ended up putting it in the closet. 
"Then, when we were making the initial demos for Vintage Trouble, we were working on the song Blues Hand Me Down. I had bought an old Fender Blues Jr. It was a tweed version of it from when they first came out. I had bought one to have at home to practice on. I had a recording studio at home, I had Logic (recording software), and I wanted to record Blues Hand Me Down with a real amp, and I was finding that it just didn't sound right. 
"I knew that I had that Les Paul in the closet that I never played, and I thought, maybe if I take that tweed amp and just use the Les Paul, plug it in for the riff in that song - and it really worked! I was like, 'Wow, maybe this is a cool sound!' 
"I was amazed that it actually worked, and then I got really attracted to the Les Paul, and then somehow it just kind of worked. I got it set up, and I never went back - now I've been using it for all these years. I'm a Les Paul fanatic! I was always a fan of Jimmy Page, but the very, very early days of Jimmy Page, and I knew he had been kind of a Telecaster guy. It's such a gorgeous guitar, and all the sounds that you can get out of it. 
"I had this friend of mine in England make me these pickups for it, and I can split the coils on it and get sort of a Tele sound out of it, and I'm so happy. It's my 'get-to' guitar! It fits on your body so well. I know it's a heavy guitar, so when we tour, I might need some massages when I get home from hanging a ten pound guitar on my shoulder every day, but I'm in love with it now, and it really works!"

Rounding out our gear talk, I noticed that on that final Leno show appearance, Nalle's solo on the track Strike Your Light jumped out of the speakers with a new found ferocity. I've been amongst an admittedly small contingent of listeners who thought the band would benefit from a tougher guitar sound, and I found this to be for me at least, the cherry on top (photo of Nalle's pedal board courtesy of Linda Fennell Andreozzi!):

Nalle Colt: "That's actually from Lazy J! 
"When we started the band, I fell in love with an old fuzz pedal, and I kind of went in the direction of leaving this fuzz on - just turn down the guitar when necessary, and it ended up being cool, but when we got playing live a lot, I started to think it got a hair muddy. 
"We went on a tour with Brian May, it was one of our absolute first tours as Vintage Trouble. We went out with Brian May. I talked to Brian a lot, and he kind of explained the whole top boost thing to me. And he gave me a top boost pedal, it was one of the original one's that he had - I couldn't believe he gave it to me! I got into the top boost thing, kind of leaving it on, and turning the guitar down. The only thing was, the one he gave me, it felt slightly too harsh (different pedals will sound different with different guitars and amps, so it makes creating magic rather magical). I couldn't get it to sound right! 
"So, I talked to Jesse at Lazy J about it, and he was like, 'You should get my pedal!' 
"For some reason, and I don't know why, I had worked with him for a year and a half, and I had never tried his pedal. It's called a Cruiser, and he's made one now called The Deuce, where it's basically a top boost and an overdrive in the same pedal. Once I got that, I never went back. I think it's the perfect combination - when I have the amps already kind of overdriven, especially the Revivals, and when you hit that pedal on, it's a very fuzzy sound, but it has the treble to cut through the bass, and the drums. 
"Yeah, I love that thing and definitely kudos to Jesse at Lazy J for making such a transparent and awesome pedal that works with basically any amp.
Photo by Linda Fennell Andreozzi
"And of course, Marc Reiser, who works with Fargen Amps, he gave me a fuzz pedal a few months ago, kind of similar to that kind of Jack White kind of thing - very over the top, maybe to the point of crazy! It was a loaner, he said go on and check it out, and I called him a few hours later because I was playing around with it at home - he was like, 'Yeah, I told you it was fun, huh?' And it would be kind of a great extra thing in the recording studio to do something different. Anyway, I got talking to him, and he asked if there was anything else you can think of that you're missing. I told him compression, because I've been playing more, and more slide guitar, and I love it - I'm a big fan of Bonnie Raitt, her vibe and approach, and hers has always been the Demeter Compressor, she used that to get that really sustaining kind of tone that she had, you know. 
"He gave me something called the Tumbleweed (Fargen Pete Anderson Tumbleweed), and for parts of Strike The Light I was using that because it had a kind of gritty thing - I don't know if you've checked out that pedal, but it's something new that I'm experimenting with, just trying it for different things. It's been fun to play around with, and I think it's a keeper, so it's still on my pedalboard. 
"Other than that, I have an old octavia pedal that Voodoo Labs made, called the Proctavia that I've had for so many years that I can't let it go. I use it on some of our songs, and it has a mad tone to it, almost a Hendrix-y kind of thing. It's my kind of 'get-to' box when I want to go nuts!"

Since Nalle had brought up the name Jack White, I thought that I'd at least bring up the rumors that I've been hearing about Vintage Trouble going into the studio someday soon with White as the producer. I also wanted to clear up the matter of where the band was at with their highly awaited second album. I had heard that the band has already recorded it. Twice. Colt was only too happy to break it down for me:

Nalle Colt: "All of the above is true up to the point of we've already recorded a new album twice - see, we write a lot of music, and we love to go into studios to experiment. The Bomb Shelter Sessions  have been around since we started as a band - it was made already after we'd been together three months. 
"The Bomb Shelter Sessions wasn't made to be an album, necessarily. I have a friend, Eric Kretz, from Stone Temple Pilots - I used to play with him for quite a while, and he had bought a studio, and the name of the studio is actually, The Bomb Shelter. I wanted to get into his studio just to track the songs. To make sure we were heading in the right direction. I just wanted to hear how we sounded. 
"I asked him if there was any chance we could get a few days in his studio, and he said, 'Yeah, absolutely.' So, we went in for three days and hashed out those songs - we recorded them all live, and that's the album. It ended up being the album. 
"We were really lucky, and it came out awesome. Ty is basically singing right there in the room. That ended up being the way we like to record. 
"When we came back from our first European tour, we had already had that album for over two years, so we were kind of tired of it! We wanted to do something new, so we went into a small studio here in LA, called 4th Street Recording, a tiny, tiny studio. We rented an old tape machine, and we just thrashed it out again. So, we have a whole new album recorded. 
"Then we decided there were some songs we didn't like, and we ended up doing a second recording. We have almost two of every track - we have 18 songs that we recorded. 
"Then, about six months ago, we were approached by Blue Note Records. Don Was is the new CEO of Blue Note, and he's a great musician and a fabulous producer. 
"His knowledge of sound, and collaborations. So yeah, we got approached by him, and he said he was interested in getting Vintage Trouble on Blue Note Records. That is currently something in the works. I cannot say 100% that it is done, but we're very, very close to getting what we wanted as a band. 
"We've been on our own, we only have a manager - our approach is very honest. We like to deal with things straight ahead, and we were always a little bit worried about getting in with some label. Early on we got some offers from some other labels, but we always decided not to do it. 
"We've been touring so much, and so we've changed our minds a little bit and said, it could be useful to have a label as long as we could keep our freedom, and maybe even try to do a deal where we could almost keep our label, but use the distribution, or even like a licensing deal with a bigger label. That could actually help us in so many ways that we cannot do on our own. 
"Don was amazing, he came through, and presented us with a record deal that was for us - we couldn't say no. 
"So, we're currently in the process of making this happen, which, of course, delayed our second release a little bit now. Now, we are currently collecting all these tracks on top of collecting all our home demos, and everything that we've been writing on tour. This week, and next we're going over all this, and deciding what can be mixed out of what we have, and what we want to do with the new songs. 
"And that's how Jack White's name came up. Don has been speaking with Jack, so it's up in the air at this point. To be very honest with you, I'd be very happy with Don Was producing it! But, Don was saying he'd like to have someone with a younger, and rougher approach than what he has, and of course, we'd be open to it. 
"Me, as a guitar player? I'm a huge fan of Jack White, I love his approach, and his vision of music. I'm a massive fan of the music he has produced for other people, and all his own stuff. I like the sound of it, I like the drum sounds, and he seems to be the guy that will really go for what we are looking for - just set up in the room, hit record on the tape machine, and use the minimum amount of microphones. 
"I want to use three microphones to record the drums, and I want Ty to be singing in the room. Try and get that old Bo Diddley kind of vibe. 
"How you can get that concept today, and still sound current? For me, Jack White is the one guy to prove it to be working. So, of course, when his name was mentioned by Don, we were like little kids, jumping up and down. Just so excited to think of a production that would be between Jack White and Don Was - for me, that would be a dream come true. So, the future will tell."

At this point, I told Nalle that perhaps it was Jack White and Don Was who should be jumping for joy, but the guitarist remains humble and gracious to the end:

Nalle Colt: "Thank you, that's nice of you to say - we take big pride in what we do, and I can only speak for myself right now, but I have days where I feel insecure at times. 
"You're only hoping that you do the right thing. We just came back from sharing the stage with Robert Cray, headlining a blues festival in Florida. And, if we can share the stage with cats like that - for me, sometimes I'm wondering, is this really for real? I don't know if I should be here, so it's a huge honor, and we're very happy. 
"I'm just a guitar player, and songwriter with the rest of the guys, and we're just hoping that we do something that people will like - it's so exciting, and so positive!"

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