Welcome to the first ever Bandstand post on Fresh Beats!
Bandstand is very much a ‘musician 101’, where we put on special features and interview musicians (both established and newcomers) to create a database of sorts: a how-to of all things music, from composition to performing to recording.
This week we’ve spoken to Ryan Stanton, guitarist of indie-rock outfit The Assist, about all things guitar – from makes to effects and writing riffs.
What make of guitar and amp do you generally go for and why?
“The make of guitar I always go for is the Fender Stratocaster. I remember Alex Turner (Arctic Monkeys) playing a white strat in the video to ‘I Bet That You Look Good on the Dance Floor’ and I instantly fell in love with it. For my amp, I use the Vox ‘Valvetronix’. I’ve experimented with loads of amps over the years but this is by far the best. It literally has a million and one built in effects and pre-set amp options. I would recommend it to anyone.”
Do you rely on any effects live and, if so, which ones?
“I mainly rely on my amps effects; I like to have the treble high and a touch of reverb. In terms of pedals I use a Boss Distortion pedal and use it to get a good contrast between the verse and chorus.”
How do you approach songwriting on the guitar?
“I start off by playing new chords that I’ve never used before and then work backwards to make a chord progression. By using a real mixture of chords I feel it keeps the songs interesting. Anyone can pick up a guitar and play a few major chords, I like to experiment with new chords. I remember hearing a story about how The Beatles would get on a bus and travel across the country just to learn a new chord then they’d work it into one off their songs.”
What do you aim to achieve when writing a guitar riff/section?
“When writing a new song my main aim is to make sure it sounds like nothing else out there. I also aim to make it an interesting progression and mainly upbeat. I think at this stage of being in an unsigned band, there’s no point knocking out depressing songs.”
Your guitar sound with The Assist has quite a danceable feel to it, how do you achieve this?
“To achieve this feel, basically, I try to create a really busy strumming pattern. The chords I use are often major to keep the danceable feel then any minor chords I stick in are usually transformed into minor 9ths or 7ths. This keeps the track upbeat.”
When writing sections, do you write them with a clean sound and then experiment with effects, or write sections with effects already in place?
“I write sections with the effect already in place because then I know straight away if it’s going to work with my band. For example in the last track, ‘Control’, an acoustic guitar with no effect would sound pretty boring, however with my amp settings and effects I can achieve my band’s sound straight away and the riff sounds powerful.”
Do you go into the writing process with an idea of what you want to compose already in mind, or is it more improvisation based?
“It’s more improvisation based really. I’ll sit down with the singer and he’ll have a set of lyrics in mind but no melody. When I start to improvise a few chords if he likes the arrangement he’ll improvise a melody. It’s mainly trial and error.”
What’s the most important thing for a guitarist to keep in mind when writing songs?
“I think the most important thing to keep in mind is your singer. You have to be aware of the singers vocal range and the key he sounds best in. There’s no point writing a killer riff in the key of E if the singers voice sounds terrible in that key.”
You can check out The Assist here and can listen to their latest track, ‘Control’, here (or read our review here).