Damien Taylor has been active in the rock and psychedelic music scene for over two decades. Working with Damo Suzuki of CAN in an collaboration/improvisational project with an outfit called Kohoutek, Asteroid 4, Dead Skeletons, Gondola, and his own (now retired) project The Sounds of Kaleidoscope (1995-2012).
Damien has relocated to Los Angeles where he has since started a new project called The Flash Hits. Damien describes the sound of The Flash Hits as “post-pop flower punk”. His band is most inspired by acts like Stereolab, The Fall, Broadcast, Sonic Youth, The Lily’s etc. We talk to Damien about his favorite gear, recording setups and influences. He is a wealth of knowledge to the aspiring psych-rock musician.
How and why did you first pick up the guitar?
I first picked it up when I was a kid, like 4/5 years old. I had this KISS piggy-bank guitar. My parents have this tape of me just whamming it and singing “Canary in a Coal Mine” overtop, typical kid-fashioned stuff. Then I’d learned bits from “Theme from Peter Gunn” and “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)” and just thought that was the coolest. I’d use coins to play it and then put them into it when I was done. Wish I still had a guitar that does that!
Who were your main early influences?
Neil Young. Beatles. Prince. Cure. My Uncle Barry, my Cousin Dale, my Aunt Darci, they always showed me ways to play along with them and let me practice on their guitars and amps. Archie Moore, Kurt Heasley. And my parents, God bless ’em, for encouraging me to learn through the noises.
What was your first instrument?
My first instrument was drums. My Grandpa Calvin was a jazz drummer and I was pretty into Ringo. I started learning coronet, but I got Rocky Mountain spotted fever as a kid and I was bed-ridden so I couldn’t practice it. The guitar was great–I could just lay there and noodle to whatever my parents were listening to. My first electric guitar was a Kapa Continental Jazzmaster kinda thing that was my Uncle Keith’s.
I learned how to mic our ’79 Electrolux vacuum cleaner at one point and run that through pedals to great effect. I can’t really play anything in the ‘proper’ sense. One day I wish to have several of those old vacuums to do a piece in a submarine.
Tone-wise, what is your favorite recording setup like? Amps, pedals, guitars, mics, etc.?
I really like low wattage amps cranked. I also like to do this thing “the horse shoe” which is a wall of amps set up in a horseshoe shape with me in the middle and mics all around the room. Depends on the song though, really. I do a lot of different stuff tone-wise, so I most enjoy a situation with options. Different guitars, amps, mics–a real wide range. Sometimes I want it to sound crisp and clear and sometimes I want really degraded and destroyed. Some equipment can’t always quite get that robot-falling-down-fire-escape noise that I desire.
Sometimes it takes some experimentation to make a sound you can only really hear in your mind. I remember for Cicada Song (a great Doug Bailey song from The Sounds of Kaleidoscope’s “All This Heaven”), Dennis Kane, Doug and I stacked two opposing walls of amps–we had 3 VOX AC30s, 2 VOX Cambridge 15s, 1 VOX Cambridge 30, a Fender ’67 Pro Junior, ’73 silverface Fender Twin (which we pulled 2 6L6 output tubes, from positions 1 & 3), 2 VOX Pathfinder 10s, 2 Marshall Lead 12s, and an Ampeg BA112 bass amp on either end of each wall (one in top left, one in bottom right). We were daisy-chaining every stereo output pedal in the house to send signal to so many inputs! But none of them were on, each amp was just running off it’s own built in stuff, if it had any. One AC30 was all tremolo’d out. Another was washed in reverb. The Cambridge’s were set to high gain. The BA112s were dime’d on the high-end by the built in EQs. The Lead 12s had the treble all the way down and the other knobs dime’d. We set a row of Blue Bottles (amazing Latvian Microphones) in figure 8 in differing height positions–in figure 8 the mic capsule is picking up from both sides. We pulled guitar feedback through each other’s amp walls while playing trem-bent guitar notes. I was playing my Fender Jag, an 80s reissue I got in ’95, the neck pickup is a Seymour Duncan Quarter Pounder and the bridge pickup is the old neck pickup, and I had them switched out of phase. Doug had his G & L legacy in a matched note tuning and we just went bent. It was beautiful.
In “Freezer-Burn in the Fever Fields”, the last KScope recording, Zeigler and I were running his Kay single coil through a ZVEX Mastotron (which has 3 octave down positions, and was set at 3 down!), and out to two AC30s, an AC15, and an AC1 with a dying 9V battery “powering” it, mic’d and aux’d direct to the board. I also had my micro-cassette recorder taping in the room, which we dumped into the mix EQ’d hot in the mids, mixed low and set as “underdubs” here and there.
When MOA recorded at Modern Mothers’ studio, I played all of my leads on a Bigsby’d 70s Les Paul in “rhythm” setting through my Russian Green Big Muff, with most of the tone knob dialed out, and a Marshall Plexi. I mean, there is no other way to get that sound!
With much of the new Flash Hits recordings, Steven Frailey and I went with some pretty simple setups for guitar–I wanted it a little pushed and broken up, but relatively clean since the tunings create a natural dissonance. The majority of those guitars are my Gibson DM Mirror Twin SG, which my friend Doug Morrison (Smoke Green) gave me after he put a Gretsch pickup in the neck and some hot-rodded-out humbucker in the bridge through a Seymour Duncan Pickup Booster Pedal, EHX Stereo Memory Man into the Pro Junior, or the Jaguar through the same pedals into the AC30. We did do some horse shoe-ing too though.
If you had to pick one pedal you could not live without which would that be?
Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner–I use different tunings. I’ve had every pedal or cable on my board fail on me at some point or another, even if only briefly, and I’ve managed to get through. But when the tuner isn’t working, ooh man that’s some ouchy biz.
Best tour you’ve been on and why?
To me, they’re all the best. Anytime I get to leave the routine behind and go play with my friends a bunch of nights in different places is the best.
Worst show you’ve ever played?
There is always something to be learned, even from the ashes. Stay in school.
Which players should guitarists should study and learn from?
As many as they can. Even if it’s only a little bit. Neil Young, Poison Ivy, Roger McGuinn, Mick Mars, Kevin Shields, Thurston and Lee of Sonic Youth, Glenn Branca, Caetano Veloso, J Mascis, Jason Simon, everyone who played guitar with Captain Beefheart, all these cats had crazy style and tone, which is generally more important than virtuousity. I also think jazz and experimental/contemporary composition can have great melodic influence on guitar playing and style. I still find great thoughts and ideas from minimalist piano recordings of Satie, Coleman, Coltrane; the Silver Apples and United States of America have no guitar on their albums and still bounce more than most. The Yardbirds was a breeding ground for greats as well–Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, even Eric Clapton was on the early singles.
Where do you find your inspiration for song ideas?
Everywhere I look!
What’s in your record player/headphones this week?
The record player in the kitchen lately has been mostly jazz–Ornette, Brigitte Fontaine w/ Art Ensemble of Chicago, etc. Fugazi’s “Red Medicine” is a perpetual kitchen fave. In my room: Broadcast, Subotnik, MBV (My Bloody Valentine), y’know–bed rock.
What are you currently working on? Any new releases in the works?
We’ve just started the first phase of getting our last batch of recordings ready to press to vinyl. We’re doing it ourselves for this one. In the meantime we have been writing a new album and working some of those songs into our live set.
Where’s the best place people can find more information about you and your band?
You can find us on the internet.
Specifically “on the internet” find the Flash Hits HERE:
Stephanie Nicole Smith is a visual artist and make up artist in Los Angeles, CA. You can find her work at stephanienicolesmith.com and follow her @stephanienicolesmith. She currently contributes to The Fuzz Guide via her Five Minutes series.