Mike Tuck of Zane Williams

I was sitting on the beach in Port Aransas, drunk, watching Mike Tuck throw potato chips at seagulls, and I wondered how an immature 22-year-old guy like Mike was able to land a professional gig in the country music circuit.  At that point I had never heard Mike play guitar; we had only met once before a mutual friend invited us both to the coast, so we never really had the chance to discuss music.

The discussion we had that day was revealing, to say the least.  Mike spoke intimately about his decision to drop out of UNT’s music program to pursue his music career – a decision his family initially didn’t understand.  But he was determined to prove to his parents – and himself – that the risk would be rewarding. 

As we shared a few beers, Mike shared sentiments about his current gig: playing lead guitar alongside Zane Williams.  He seemed sincere when he talked about how lucky he felt to be playing music professionally.  Our day together was full of refreshingly candid conversations – and drinking.

During our drunk chats, Mike received what seemed to be an important phone call.  I was stunned by how quickly his professionalism subdued his drunkenness.  He was somehow able to carry on a coherent, mature conversation.  When the call was over, he hung up, put some notes in his calendar, and proceeded to slam another beer.  Something about that moment intrigued me, and I became eager to write about him.

It wasn’t until New Year’s Eve that I was able to make it out to Hank’s in McKinney to watch Mike play live with Zane.  I’ll admit: Today’s watered-down, factory-assembled country music scene has made me a hesitant listener, but I think Zane’s music is sincere and well written.  (My favorite song, “Overnight Success,” is a clever and cynical story about the misconceptions of what it takes to become a “success” in the music industry.)

Zane may have been center stage during the show, but my focus was on Mike, who maintained a high-energy performance despite the obstruction of a support beam inconveniently planted on his side of the stage.  He put his Nash guitar and Matchless amp to work and delivered fast, finger-picking rhythm licks, giant country lead solos, and even the occasional slide. His variety of overdrive pedals created a vast range of sounds, from an almost completely clean tone to a fully compressed, heavily overdriven signal. 

When he wasn’t playing lead, he was churning out meticulous guitar riffs to help sustain the integrity of each song – particularly between vocals.  If the tempo calmed, he would switch on his delay and tremolo to soften the mood and create a more subdued ambiance.

In keeping with the New Year’s Eve energy, Mike approached everything with a “party hard” persona.  He jumped on risers during his guitar solos, chugged beers during Zane’s vocal solos, and charismatically tipped his hat to the audience before throwing back shots they sent to the stage.

As I watched him charm the crowd, I started to understand his “Jekyll and Hyde” persona: One side of him is the rambunctious 22-year-old kid I met at the beach, but the other side is a tenacious, uncompromising musician who is truly passionate about his playing.

Mike’s passion for guitar started in the fourth grade when his parents gifted him a Fender Squire Stratocaster for Christmas.  Over the course of the next several years, Mike’s guitar playing habits were typical: He practiced, went to lessons, and practiced some more.  And like most of us, when it came to listening to music, he explored and experimented with all kinds, hoping to find inspiration.

When Mike was in ninth grade, he made the decision to pursue guitar as a career.  “I don’t know why the heck I’ve always been this way, but I’ve just been like, ‘I’ve gotta plan for my future, I gotta figure out what I’m doing with my life.’”

So he set out to petition the masses, and after interrogating teachers and professional musicians, his path became clear.  “It just sounded like everyone who was really good studied jazz,” Mike revealed.

Feeling motivated, he made the decision to join his high school jazz band.  He even attended a jazz summer camp at UNT, where he ambitiously approached the head of the UNT Jazz Department.  “Listen man, I really want to go to school here.  Tell me what I need to work on to get into school here.”  Mike was ultimately referred to Shayne Green, who quickly became his friend and most influential mentor.

Soon Mike formed his own jazz band, for which he carried around homemade clipart flyers in an attempt to book local shows.  Before long, he was getting paid to play shows every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday – one gig even paid $750 each week.  When I asked what fueled his persistence, he said, “I worked at a donut shop and just thought if I hustled harder, I could probably start making some real money.  So I quit that job and started hustling with my guitar.”

Most days he’d wake up at 5:00am to practice, then skip lunch to practice even more.  He originally pursued jazz to become a better player, but connecting with jazz on a deeper level helped him form a more intense love for the music.

Mike was able to enroll in the UNT jazz program, but shortly after his academic career began, his mentor, Shayne, started asking Mike to fill in for him on the days he wasn’t able to play shows with his country band.  The more opportunities he had to step in, the more he realized how much he enjoyed playing country music.  Suddenly his desire to be on the road with a country band outweighed his obsession with studying jazz at UNT.

After his freelancing stint, Mike wound up passing an audition to play with Jamie Richards.  For the next seven months, he tried to tour while balancing school, teaching music lessons, and being a worship leader.  “I always thought that if you have an opportunity to work and you have time in your day to do it, then you better be working,” he professed.

Despite his busy schedule, Mike also continued to sporadically fill in for Shayne, which put him on the stage with Zane Williams.  The thought of being on tour with Zane was exciting, even early on.  “I remember thinking that I would drop out of school for that.” 

It was during his time with Jamie Richards that Mike received the phone call he had hoped for: Zane Williams needed a lead guitarist and offered Mike the job.  The opportunity was too enticing to refuse.  He subsequently decided he would leave UNT to cultivate his country music career.

Let’s learn more about Mike’s career and his passion for gear in this candid Q&A:

(All answers written directly by artist)

What do you like about your Nash guitar?

For my guitars, I’ve got three Telecasters: A Nash T-63, a Suhr Classic T, and a Fender Custom Shop.  I knew that a lot of badass players in town were rocking the Nash Teles, so it made me really want to get one.  It’s definitely my favorite of the three.  Plus they just look cool.

With the wide variety of boutique amp makers, why did the Matchless Lightning Reverb stand out to you?

The Lightning stuck out to me because it has that EL84 British sound.  The amp is also pretty bright, which is great for country guitar.

What is your pedal signal flow?

First is my wireless Shure Glxd16.  Next is the One Control Iguana Tail Loop, and into that I have a Wampler Ego Compressor, then my Morning Glory from JHS, then the RC Booster from Xotic Effects, then the Lightspeed from Greer Amps, and the last one on the Iguana Tail is my Chicken Soup pedal from Rocket Pedals.

From the Iguana Tail I go into my Ernie Ball JHS Active/No Loss Mod with a T.C. Electronic tuner out.  From the Volume Pedal I go into the Strymon Mobius, then the Strymon Timeline, and then out to the good ole Matchless.

Photo Credit:  Kelsie Shelton    Instagram:    @kelsie_shelton

Photo Credit: Kelsie Shelton  Instagram: @kelsie_shelton

Why do you play with four different overdrives?

I could definitely get away with only having one overdrive on my board, but I like the option of having so many different textures at my disposal during the gig.  For example, one night I’ll use the RC Booster on a song like “Damned,” and then the next night I’ll use my Morning Glory on that same song.  They both sound great and they both fit the song.  I just like to change things up and I’m still in the process of figuring out which pedals I like the most.  I feel like that’s a never-ending process for guitar players.

With the amount of options they have, your Strymon pedals can be intimidating.  How do you like to utilize them?

I definitely do not use my Strymon pedals to their full potential.  They can do a lot of stuff, but I only have three to four presets on the Timeline and Mobius that I switch between.  On the Timeline I go between either a dotted 8th, slap back, reverse, or just a delay with a few repeats on a quarter note tap tempo.  On the Mobius I go back and forth between two different tremolos.  One is that classic trem sound you can get off a fender deluxe or twin, and the other is a more “square” shaped tremolo.  I think that’s what it’s called.  Similar to that sound at the beginning of Luke Bryan’s “Country Girl (Shake It For Me).”

What jazz musicians have influenced you?

My biggest jazz influences (for guitar playing at least) would probably be Clint Strong, Wes Montgomery, and Pat Metheny.  Not to say I sound anything like those dudes – I just enjoy their playing a lot.  One of my all-time favorite albums is Wes Montgomery’s Smokin’ at the Half Note.

I also really like non-guitar-playing jazzers like Dave Brubeck and Dizzy Gillespie.  Those were the first jazz guys I really started listening to.  The album Dave Digs Disney is a great one to listen to to get you into the jazz world if you think all jazz is just a bunch of people “playing the wrong notes.”

How do you feel your jazz background influences your playing as a country musician?

Studying jazz and music theory definitely helped open up the fretboard for me quite a bit, and all of that theory transfers over to my country playing.  I think country playing and jazz have a lot in common.  That’s basically what “western swing” is, I think.  I’m definitely not an expert on that by any means.  If you listen to dudes like Brad Paisley or Brent Mason you can hear a lot of bebop-ish lines in their solos.  I remember when my teacher Shayne Green first showed me Brad Paisley’s solo from his version of “Jingle Bells.”  That song had a lot of pretty sick jazz lines going on in it and I loved it.  After hearing that, I was pretty hooked on that country/jazz sound.  I really wanted to sound like that so I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to make my jazz lines fit into the country songs I was playing without going overboard.  A lot of getting that sound, I think, is about knowing when to use chromaticism.

Some good songs that have that type of playing on them are:

·       Dixie Chicks – “Give It Up Or Let Me Go”

·       Alan Jackson – “Burnin’ The Honky Tonks Down”

·       Brad Paisley – “Camouflage”

·       LeAnn Rimes – “Swingin’”

·       Joe Diffie – “Good Brown Gravy” (Live at Billy Bob’s)

·       Kevin Fowler – “Fat Bottomed Girls”

What do you think has contributed to your strong musical work ethic?

The big thing for me is having the desire to always get better.  The more I play shows and hear other players, the more I realize how much room I have to grow.  Just this last weekend we were in Houston playing a festival and one of the other band’s guitar players was so freakin’ badass.  It can be super inspiring just as much as it can make me want to burn all of my guitars and quit.  It’s really a healthy balance of crippling self-doubt and inspiration.


What made you finally decide to drop out of college to pursue your career?

Whenever I realized I could make a living doing music without a degree.  Well, that, and for some reason I always had in the back of my mind – even as a high school junior – that if Zane asked me to go on the road with him, I would drop out of college.  So when he did, I didn’t think twice about it.  I tried to balance school, teaching, church gigs, and playing full time for Jamie Richards for one semester, and it made ma almost insane.  It was too much for me and I started to realize that finishing a degree wasn’t going to do a whole lot for me given my chosen career path.


How did your family respond to this decision?

Well, Mrs. Rosemarie Tuck is still not crazy about me dropping out of school, but both of my parents have always been extremely supportive of me pursuing music.  I’m very thankful for them.  It makes a world of difference when you’ve got your home unit behind you 100%.


What are some of the benefits or stresses associated with being a hired musician as opposed to an original band member?

Well, no matter how many people come to the show, you still get paid the same.  You can always play for other artists if you choose to.  If you don’t like your gig, you can always quit, and they can just find someone else as opposed to the band “breaking up.”  But at the same time, hired guns are pretty disposable.  Not to sound negative, but they just are.  And that can be viewed as good or bad for you, depending on how you think about it.  There are a lot of people who could do my job and a lot of them could do it better than me.  It’s a good way to stay humble and a good way to keep working hard and to keep trying to up your value as a hired gun, with that in mind.

It’s fair to say that my initial judgement of Mike Tuck was harsh and inaccurate.  Mike likes to have fun, like any 22-year-old would, but he takes his playing and his career as serious as any musician out there.  He’s certainly deserving of the success he’s had and hopefully he’ll keep receiving.  Zane Williams is equally hard working and almost always on tour.  I encourage you to check out his tour dates and go watch these boys in action.  And while you’re at the show, be sure to buy Mike a beer.

Alexis Sanchez of The Van Sanchez

My bizarre brush with the universe started when I saw a picture of Alexis on stage, screaming into a microphone.  He was playing a custom Telecaster, which I would later learn was built using parts salvaged from a guitar shop fire (more on that later).  After seeing that picture, I felt like the universe kept trying to force me to cross paths with Alexis Sanchez and his band, The Van Sanchez.

Photo Credit:  Kelsie Shelton   Instagram:  @kelsie_shelton

Photo Credit: Kelsie Shelton  Instagram: @kelsie_shelton

One day while scrolling through my news feed, pictures of the band and a promo video for their new EP randomly appeared.  A few weeks later, I purchased tickets to see a local show at The Kessler Theater only to discover that The Van Sanchez was the opener.  Ok, universe: I watched the band and decided I definitely want to write about Alexis – now back off. 

But the universe didn’t back off.

Soon after the Kessler show I went to Adair’s to watch local favorite Cody Foote play some tunes, and who did I find playing lead guitar alongside Cody?  Alexis Sanchez.  On a different night at The Free Man, I again spotted Alexis playing lead guitar – this time for some dark and dirty Cajun Blues with Charley Crockett

But Alexis wasn’t only popping up at live shows.  Once while getting my haircut, I was chatting with my stylist about my pursuit to discover and write about local talent.  Sure enough, he recommended I check out a guy named Alexis with his band, The Van Sanchez.

Ok, universe: You win.

I ended up watching The Van Sanchez play two live shows and one rehearsal, and each time I came to the same conclusion: the band consistently delivers pure, unfiltered rock that’s written from the heart and played from the gut.  But I don’t think I realized just how well crafted their sound actually is until I sat in on one of their rehearsals. 

These days, a lot of “rock” bands will advertise themselves by using a series of sub-genre titles in an attempt to validate or better define their sound.  Other bands prefer a familiar, more simplistic label – one that signifies an association with the formulaic and mainstream.  But The Van Sanchez doesn't need a tedious string of titles to characterize their sound, and their music is anything but mainstream.  They draw inspiration from rebellious punk rock, blues, honky-tonk, Americana, and soul: a recipe of influences that has helped them cook up a sound completely unique to them.

The first time I watched the band play live, I noticed that both Alexis’ guitar playing and his vocals seemed to echo the emotions of a bipolar stray dog.  Some songs felt like lonely, gut-wrenching pleas for affection and rescue; others projected a passionate hatred for captivity and a longing for solitude and freedom, no matter the cost.  You can hear this kind of emotion in the guitar as much as you can hear it in the lyrics.

Photo Credit:  Kelsie Shelton   Instagram:  @kelsie_shelton

Photo Credit: Kelsie Shelton  Instagram: @kelsie_shelton

Alexis crafts his guitar sound using a simple mix of overdrive, fuzz, slap back, and reverb.  Other than the occasional boost from a fuzz pedal, it’s mostly just the familiar tone of a Telecaster being overdriven into a good old-fashioned combo tube amp.

Alexis and co-guitarist Jerry Drew have almost polar opposite styles of playing that, in theory, should not mesh well.  Alexis uses raw overdrive and fuzz to make his mark on a song while Jerry uses a broad blend of effects to create polished accents or a specific mood.  They manage to combine their separate signature sounds in a cohesive manner, creating great solos and catchy riffs.

Since Alexis is the lead singer of the band, I expected him to assume the primary role of rhythm guitarist.  However, in continuity with Jerry and Alexis’ meshing of sounds, they ignore traditional expectations of lead and rhythm and instead focus on what’s best for each song.  Their approach results in an almost-equal distribution of lead and rhythm from each player.

And while the lead guitar definitely stands out, the rhythm guitar proves to be just as interesting.  I found myself fixated on Alexis’ strumming patterns rather than the actual chords being played.  He and Jerry incorporate large amounts of negative space which allow the vocals, bass, and drums to come front-and-center in the songs.  Because of this, each song featured a mix of catchy verses and unique bridges that left me humming their tunes the whole ride home.

Although I knew Alexis played in multiple bands, it didn’t occur to me just how often he played.  Finding free time to meet up proved to be difficult.  We tried during rehearsal, but most of the band’s time was spent preparing for their upcoming show (as it should be).  We tried again before his set at The Denton Blues Festival, but our encounter was cut short when the set times were adjusted.  I thought it might be easier to meet up outside of shows, but Alexis maintains two jobs to help pay the bills.  On and off the stage, this guy stays busy.  We eventually found time to sit down at one of my favorite dive bars, The Lakewood Landing.

Our night started with a mixture of whiskey and a few games of pool.  As we continued playing, Alexis filled me in on why The Van Sanchez exists.  “I do it because I just feel like it has to be done,” he professed about playing his brand of music.  “There’s either not enough of it, or I don’t see it, hear it, or feel it enough.  So I just feel obligated to do it.”

Alexis paused mid-shot to tell me the song playing overhead was “Freddie Freeloader” from Miles Davis’ record Kind of Blue.  He claims it has “one of the best piano solos.”  He remained focused on the music throughout the course of the night, which in turn filled our conversation with short pauses and remarks about what makes a song great, or why certain songs resonate with him.  “I discovered Gram Parsons eight years ago and haven’t been the same since,” he confessed.  “From Buck [Owens] to Hank [Williams] Sr. to Justin Townes Earle – I sure do love real country music and honky-tonk.”  It became very clear that his roots in music ran deep, and his love for music went even deeper.

Influences are often described in terms of music styles or genres.  With Alexis, it’s more accurate to say he’s influenced by music that has authenticity and emotion.  He believes these elements matter more than the genre itself, which is one reason why his playing has so many interesting elements.

Photo Credit:  Kelsie Shelton   Instagram:  @kelsie_shelton

Photo Credit: Kelsie Shelton  Instagram: @kelsie_shelton

Alexis’ love for playing guitar started around the age of ten when his mom’s boyfriend – now his stepfather – introduced Alexis to the accordion and familiarized him with styles of Conjunto.  Later, the two visited a rundown flea market where they discovered a used acoustic guitar.  Alexis hadn’t ever thought about playing the guitar but could tell his mom’s boyfriend really wanted to buy it for him.  So they haggled over the price, and in the end – for just fifteen dollars – Alexis got his first guitar.

The next morning was the first time Alexis heard the guitar being played.  His stepdad sat across from him and began playing slide guitar and some blues riffs.  “Whatever was happening, it sounded really Hawaiian,” Alexis said.  “He didn’t know how to play slide.  He didn’t know how to play guitar.  He was just fucking around.  He was playing what he kind of understood [to be the] blues.”  Those sounds resonated with Alexis and helped ignite his interest in guitar.

Alexis’ gear was soon upgraded when his aunt – who didn’t play guitar, but saw little potential in his flea market find – gifted him a slightly less shitty Kay Acoustic Guitar, which just happened to have a 1960’s black-and-white Mel Bay chord book in its case.  “I just grabbed that [chord book] and started learning chords,” he said.

Eventually he received his first “real” guitar: a Yamaha Classical Guitar.  “That was the beginning of me figuring shit out and writing,” he explained.  He became obsessed with picking up new songs and techniques from anyone else who played. 

While getting to know his new acoustic, Alexis was given two of the biggest catalysts for his guitar obsession: Nirvana: Unplugged in New York and Jimi Hendrix’s The Ultimate Experience.  “It wasn’t even “Purple Haze” or “Voodoo Child” that really struck a chord with me; it was songs like “Remember” where he’s playing these old soul tunes.  That’s the shit I would listen to over and over and over again.”

His love for soul made perfect sense.  While growing up, long before he played guitar, Alexis’ mom would play Motown greats while she was cleaning.  Listening to those records led him to his first major love in music, Smokey Robinson.  To this day, he emphatically praises the haunting and beautifully simple “Ohh Baby Baby”.  He believes it’s “one of the most important songs ever written.”

The first time Alexis really felt the raw power and cohesiveness of a rock band was when he picked up a copy of Led Zepplin IV.  The strength of that album stood out to him in a way none before had.  Shortly thereafter, he finally transitioned to an electric guitar, purchasing an Epiphone Les Paul Special II and a Solid State Fender Amp with a headphone jack.

Alexis was learning a lot of blues-based music but didn’t fully realize what he was playing until he was jamming with a friend.  His friend, who was taking formal lessons, would share whatever he learned with Alexis.  One of the times they were playing together was the first time Alexis officially played the blues.  He learned to play the 1-4-5 in E, and by the second time he went to the turnaround, everything just seemed to click.  Alexis finally understood that much of the music he loved playing was rooted in blues.  He was now able to deconstruct the songs he listened to, note by note; music started to make sense.  Learning different scales and chord progressions helped him listen to music with a new perspective, and his newfound knowledge of song structure helped his playing improve at an exponential rate.

It wasn’t long before Alexis started playing gigs, incorporating a mix of blues, indie rock and singer/songwriter material.  He began frequenting the legendary blues jams, sharing the stage with host and mentor Hash Brown – “The King of the Dallas Blues Jams.”  He performed at open mic nights where he played a mix of original music and covers by the likes of Townes Van Zandt, Bob Dylan, Ryan Adams, and Muddy Waters.  His years of experience as a working musician have led Alexis to his current niche: The Van Sanchez.  Alexis describes his influences, his gear and his playing style in this revealing Q&A:

(All answers written directly by artist)

First off, your guitar is incredibly cool and very unique.  How did you come across it and how was it made?

This is a long one: The short version is I had a guitar that was getting repaired at Jimmy's Guitar Repair that used to be in Expo Park.  Jimmy has been my dude and only guitar tech for close to nine years now.  Jimmy's caught on fire one night while I was bartending at Amsterdam Bar and an old piece of shit "Franken-Tele" that my buddy gave me was in the shop for the second or third time.  My previous and main guitar was stolen.  It was a ‘95 American Strat.

Anywho, my “Franken-Tele” was burned; one of the only guitars that was completely obliterated from the fire.  Jimmy promised he would build me another.  He promised to do so as he had no insurance and he's one of the most stand-up dudes I know – not to mention, a genius.

So, a few months later he calls me up to tell me he had finished my Tele.  I was elated, to put it mildly.  He "charged" me $30 to pay for the new bridge and labor.  Jimmy used the Bigsby, the backing bridge-pickup plate, and the jack plate off of the burned guitar and put it on my custom Tele.

It's my Excalibur.  It is my sword in the stone.

Photo Credit:  Kelsie Shelton   Instagram:  @kelsie_shelton

Photo Credit: Kelsie Shelton  Instagram: @kelsie_shelton

Tell me about the time Gary Clark Jr. played your guitar.

My friend, Jeff Dyer, brought him to a Trophy Wives show one night at City Tavern.  [Trophy Wives] is a blues cover band I used to play in.  Gary walked into the bar with Jeff and we shit our pants.  I had just seen him play Hangout Fest five months before in front of 10,000 people, ya know?

Gary asked to play with us and of course we obliged him.  He grabbed David Ponder's Les Paul and I took it off of him and basically made him play my Tele.  Jimmy had just set it up and brought it to the gig.

Gary and I talked about my guitar in length between sets.  I told him the story.  He made me promise him to never sell, pawn, or get rid of it.  Haha!


Photo Credit:  Kelsie Shelton   Instagram:  @kelsie_shelton

Photo Credit: Kelsie Shelton  Instagram: @kelsie_shelton

What kind of amp do you play through?  Do you use the same amp in your other projects, or just The Van Sanchez? 

I play a Peavey Classic 30.  It's not the amp I envisioned playing for the last two-and-a-half years but she's been good to me.  The amp has so much versatility and spark that I can just really utilize and manipulate its inherent qualities.  I also own and occasionally play a ‘72 Fender Bassman.  She's my temperamental baby -- sounds great, some of the time.  I love it but it just needs new speakers and what not.  I'll always love her.  Haha!

What are your pedals and their signal flow?

Boss TU2 Tuner - Way Huge Swollen Pickle - Electro Harmonix Soul Food - MXR Carbon Copy Delay - TC Electronics Hall of Fame Reverb

Photo Credit:  Kelsie Shelton   Instagram:  @kelsie_shelton

Photo Credit: Kelsie Shelton  Instagram: @kelsie_shelton

How do you utilize your Soul Food and Swollen Pickle Pedals? 

The Pickle is getting utilized more.  It's kind of an intimidating pedal, to be honest.  We're finally writing material that really calls for it.  I use it sparingly but I'm glad I have it as it will be getting used more.  

The Soul Food gets used quite a bit.  I use it as a clean boost with other projects and with TVS it's a distortion pedal through and through.  I use it in TVS as a boost with distortion.

Are your reverb and delay pedals always on, or just for specific parts?

Specific parts only.  Hall of Fame gets used a lot but not every song and not every part.  The delay is getting used more as well.  I use it for a rockabilly vibe that gets called for a lot with guys like Sugarfoote or Charley Crockett, but with TVS I really let the delay and signal go to get those deep, rich delay swings.

How would you describe your sound and playing style?

I have an obvious blues background from playing and growing up as a young punk in the blues jams of Dallas.  And though I love the blues, I remember the first time I really heard punk music.  The time I really heard The Clash…it changed my life.  They were really saying something, ya know?  It was the feeling and the message, not just the guitars or amps they were using.  There was a swagger, a “fuck-you-we-are-gonna-do-this-our-way” attitude and I did my best to swallow that pill.  Still am. 

What are some of the most important influences that have shaped your personal style of playing?

I mean, Hendrix is everything, right?  He changed everything.  He was such an alien; tone, style, look, attack, interpretation of songs, his songwriting, his lyrics, his love for Bob Dylan.  It's really hard to put into words exactly how much his music has affected me.  

Then there's the Miles Davis' record Kind of Blue.  That record to this day holds a part of my being.  

John Coltrane is everything.  Bill Evans is the saddest and most beautiful musician to me.  Every song on that record has had to have had an influence on me just because I have spent so much time listening to it.  I'm no jazz player.  I'm no jazz player at all, but that music just speaks to me in such a tangible way.  It's pure, it's beautiful, and I am grateful that record was made.  

I would say that, plus so many other blues, punk, and country artists…but as a player, these people have had the largest impact on me.

You and your co-guitarist Jerry have very different styles of playing.  What are some of the struggles and benefits of playing with that dynamic?

It's honestly really hard to put into words the dynamic that we have together.  It really doesn't make sense.  Even our close friends, killer musicians and producers in town, tell us they don't get it.  I don't get it.  I don't think Jerry gets it.  I know I don't.  There are really no struggles to our dynamic together.  It's all so fluid.  I'm very technical and Jerry just isn't.  He finds colors and shapes to bring to our music.  He finds noises that coincide with what we're doing and it just works.  I can say this about the entire band; our closeness as friends and as brothers is what makes this music.  No one can fuck with that. 

Other than The Van Sanchez, how many different bands do you play with? 

Honestly, just Charley Crockett.  I don't play with Sugarfoote much these days.  I'm an occasional stand-in for Hazardous Dukes and when Somebody's Darling is in town we try to "get the band back together”, but Charley is my dude.  I love playing with him.  He's really a fine musician and his style I just love.  It's a little honky-tonk, blues, folk, soul – just groovy-ass shit. 

How do you balance playing in your band, other bands, and working two jobs?

My bosses are the best.  My managers at Braindead [Brewing] fully support me 100% and I often see my co-workers at my shows.  My other manager is legit too.  He totally lets me have time off to play.  

Not to sound indifferent or arrogant or whatever, but I don't know anything about balance.   All I know is I Iove playing music more than anything.  Without it I wouldn't know what to do with myself.  I don't think I could be myself.  The way you balance this shit is to just say, "I'm gonna figure it out.  I'm gonna do it.  I don't care what it costs.  I can't afford it anyway."

So who is Alexis Sanchez?  Based on my experience, I’d say he’s a hardworking musician both on and off the stage.  He loves music, plays the hell out of his guitar, and puts on a good show.  So be sure to go down to Three Links on Saturday Nov. 28th to grab a drink, listen to him play, and pick up a copy of The Van Sanchez EP.

Rene Floyd of ill Smiths

Photo Credit:  Kelsie Shelton   Instagram:  @kelsie_shelton

Photo Credit: Kelsie Shelton  Instagram: @kelsie_shelton

The first thing that made me notice Rene Floyd wasn’t his music, it was the gear he played it with.  We had crossed paths several times on a Facebook group for gear trading where he showcased some very modest – yet awesome – equipment.

One of his pictures featured a beautiful Surf Green Fender Squire Jaguar leaning against a stack of Orange speaker cabinets powered by an Orange Micro Terror.  I’m definitely a fan of the inexpensive Micro Terror Hybrid Amp, but I had never seen anyone use it live.  I really wanted to watch Rene play a show and talk with him in person about his band and his gear.

As luck would have it, I was able to see Rene and his band, ill Smiths, at their debut show at The Crown and Harp.  This particular show featured two guitar players, a bass player, a laptop for drum loops, and all of the usual first-show jitters.  To be perfectly candid, I found the show to be a bit confusing.  The vocals were buried in effects – which made it impossible to decipher any lyrics – and the drum loops seemed to suck the life right out of the show.  I wanted so badly to enjoy this band, but it just wasn’t happening.

Just as I had made up my mind about the show not going too well, I looked around the venue expecting to see other people in the crowd feeling the same way.  But to my surprise, I noticed just the opposite: The crowd had drifted from the back of the bar to the front, and everyone was fully engaged.  All of the random conversations had ceased and everyone’s attention was focused solely on the stage.  The clapping and cheering between songs wasn’t obligatory, it was genuine.  I left the show unsure of what I thought about the experience. 

Maybe I hate it and everyone else in the crowd has terrible taste in music.  Or maybe I’m getting old and I just don’t know what good music is anymore.  Maybe I really liked it but I just couldn’t get passed those fucking drum loops!

After venting to a friend about the experience, he went home and listened to the ill Smiths EP and returned only to tell me he loved them.  I decided I needed to give ill Smiths another chance, so I headed down to The Double Wide to see them play again – this time with a full lineup. 

This time the band took the stage with confidence.  The vocals weren’t buried under effects, and most importantly, there were drums being played by a real drummer!

This show was definitely better than the last, but I got the same feeling that it wasn’t going very well.  Again, I looked around the room and found I was the only one who felt this way. The girls were dancing while the guys were bobbing their heads.  And as each song played, the applause became more enthusiastic.  Even the bartender began to unknowingly ignore his customers because he was fixated on the stage.  I decided to stop analyzing it all and just enjoy the ill Smiths self-described “poppy and sloppy, verby and lo-fi” sound. 

Photo Credit:  Kelsie Shelton   Instagram:  @kelsie_shelton

Photo Credit: Kelsie Shelton  Instagram: @kelsie_shelton

Throughout the set, Rene played a laid-back mix of vibey, groovy surf rock riffs that whirled through different permutations of modern ambient sounds.  His guitar remained saturated with colors from his palette of fuzz, chorus, reverb, and delay – all trying to paint the lead hook directly onto your memory's canvas.  He strolled around the fret board with high-pitched picking while the rhythm guitar and bass simultaneously maintained a tranquil groove that lazily moved them all through the verses and choruses.

In one song, Rene crafted a range of beautiful high-pitched ethereal moans that perfectly mirrored the keyboard player’s vocals; during the next song, he hurled his guitar on the ground and forced it into gloriously maddening loops of delay and feedback.  For a moment I hoped Rene would break out the matches and a can of lighter fluid to channel his inner Hendrix.

While this happened, my eyes panned the stage to admire the humble gear that initially motivated me to see these two shows.  I was really impressed by the wide array of emotion his modest setup was able to produce.  After his set at the Double Wide we talked over a beer and decided to meet up later for an interview.

Rene and I grabbed a seat at the picnic table outside their warehouse rehearsal space so he could give me his guitar playing history. He grew up in a loving Christian home, and for most of his life, he was heavily involved in sports.  If it weren’t for a dog walking incident during middle school in which Rene broke his finger, playing guitar wouldn’t have been something he ever gained interest in doing.

Recovering from the broken finger left him unable to play sports.  It was when he was lying around his house recouping that he noticed an old student model classical guitar – strung with steel strings – that had been given to him when he was eight.  “I couldn’t play sports at the time, but it didn’t cross my mind that I also couldn’t play guitar,” Rene said.

He taught himself to tune the guitar and started to learn the basics of music by emulating songs on the radio.  His religious family didn’t approve of Kurt Cobain, so he had to listen to his first major influence, Nirvana, in secret.  But his parents were very encouraging when it came to playing guitar in the form of worship songs with their church.  Rene was excited to learn that his youth pastor/fellow musician also had a thing for Nirvana, as well as other parentally frowned-upon music.  Lucky for Rene, his parents’ good intentions inadvertently put him in touch with a whole new world of “forbidden” music.

He expanded his playing by listening to a slew of alternative rock and punk music.  By reading guitar magazines, he started learning about different amps and pedals and how they could be incorporated in his playing.  It was hard learning about so much new equipment while still only having his incorrectly strung student guitar to play.  It wasn’t until he acquired a free Peavey Pacer Amp from working a church garage sale that he was able to convince his parents to buy him his very first electric guitar: a black-on-black Epiphone SG Special.

Photo Credit:  Kelsie Shelton   Instagram:  @kelsie_shelton

Photo Credit: Kelsie Shelton  Instagram: @kelsie_shelton

As Rene went through high school and college, his education in music was provided by a series of mentors, bands, and mainstream music obsessions (the list for which is lengthy enough to warrant its own separate write-up).

His obsessions would start with a mainstream act like John Mayer or The Dave Matthews Band, and then he would research their influences.  He would often find himself tunneling through a rabbit hole of classic greats, blues players, and Motown influences such as Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Marvin Gaye.

As he gained interest in multiple genres, he learned in-depth lessons about both guitar playing and music production.  These influences, coupled with his curiosity for producing unique sounds, culminated into a series of highly experimental phases with different pedals and sounds; each phase would include a multitude of bands and shows – and even an international tour. 

Rene is now playing with ill Smiths and he’s trying to make his mark on the DFW music scene.  Let’s let Rene explain a little more about his plight, his sound, and his favorite gear:

(All answers written directly by artist)

 How would you describe your sound and playing style with ill Smiths?

My sound/style is probably best described as simple, fuzzy, ambient, and tasteful.  I am a fan of players who know when and what to play, as well as when to back off.  My primary concern with playing in ill Smiths is completing the thought for Elijah, our lead singer and rhythm player.  When he wrote the tunes we are currently playing, it was just him. So our demos have two, three, or four guitar parts going on at once.  I try to pick up the slack live.  What parts are necessary to the musical idea, what parts will be recognizable from the recordings, what little nuance can I add to liven up the scene? 

 What influenced you to play this style?

Elijah and I bonded over music very quickly.  So when our influences in general overlapped, it was very easy to pinpoint where we wanted to take this concentrated project.  We are really big fans of Best Coast's early work, Alvvays, Broncho, Vivian Girls, and Wavves.  We love hazy, garage-y, reverb-drenched saccharine pop and/or love songs.  Listening to these artists informed me of how I should approach the lead lines for our songs: simple, surf, synth-like (at times), and loose.  I think the one thing these artists have in common is a sense of taste that isn't always perfectly tuned, in time, or consistent.  I think I respect this but take it a step further and try to be loose – yet I like the consistency of say, a band like The Strokes.  You'll often hear me rely on following a bass line or a piece of the melody but I will add the fuzz or the delay to transform it into its own little tag. 

What amps and speaker combos do you play with?

Currently, live, I am playing through a stock Roland Jazz Chorus-120 and I also use an Orange Micro Terror through an Orange PPC 1 x 12 cab.

I love that you play on a Micro Terror!  What made you decide to use this amp?

Well, I have always wanted and admired the Orange Amp brand and its products.  However, their line is a little pricey for me and the way I tend to deal with my gear.  I saw that someone was selling a Micro Terror on a Facebook gear group that I am a member of.  At the time I was looking for something with a headphone jack so I could practice without disturbing anyone and I noticed the Micro Terror had one.  I began to research what the amp could do and was blown away after I saw video after video of guys on Facebook running them through 4 x 12 cabs – and it sounded legit.  I almost had to get one just to see for myself that this little 20 watt solid state amp with a single preamp tube would really sound like these videos.  So, I rolled the dice. I got the Micro Terror and less than a week later found the 1 x 12 matching cab.  I spent $100 on the amp and got the cab in a trade.  I was blown away by how lucky I had gotten.  

 Do you prefer one amp over the other?

Right now I am in love with the Roland.  I’m not sure if it’s due to the nostalgia it brings me from a tour I went on once in Japan, or just because it’s new to me.  Every club has gear to rent so you don't have to haul gear on their train/subway system.  When I heard what those amps could do with all the various genres of music and guitar players playing through them, I was floored that they could perform that well.  Right now I am also super into chorus, so the option to have two different chorus settings (one amp and one pedal) is the best for my sound at the moment. 

Tell me about the Squire guitars you play and why you like to play on such inexpensive gear.

I think this has come through the trial and error of owning several brands and styles of guitars.  I have owned some boutique guitars – Reverend and the like.  What I find when playing the higher-end guitar is that I spend a ton of time making sure I don't mess up the guitar and get super bummed when they are not in pristine condition.  I also found that with the right TLC, a lower-end guitar can be modded and sound and feel just as good as its American counterparts.  I tend to prefer the lower-end gear so that I can experiment with pickups and can bend the necks up and throw it around a bit to give it a nice “lived-in” character.  I want my live playing to be a touch of a struggle.  I want to not really know what I am getting myself into about five minutes before we play and then work my way out of that hole. 

My two current main guitars are Aaliyah and Beyonce.  Aaliyah is new to me – she is a Squire J Mascis Signature Jazzmaster.  I got her after someone stole my Squire Vintage Modified Jaguar from our practice space.  The pickups are high output, the jumbo frets feel great with the sanded-down neck.  It is probably one of the best feeling guitars I have ever played without any mods.  Beyonce is another Squire Vintage Modified Jazzmaster Special.  This guitar has really grown on me; the bridge is fixed and the knobs are the old Bassmaster Toggle Style concentric style knobs.  She’s a looker and a killer back-up guitar. 

Photo Credit:  Kelsie Shelton   Instagram:  @kelsie_shelton

Photo Credit: Kelsie Shelton  Instagram: @kelsie_shelton

What is it about offset body styles that makes you want to play them?

The reason I picked up a guitar in the first place was to learn every Nirvana song I could.  I saw Kurt play some random guitars - but the Mustang, the Jaguar, and the Jazzmaster always stood out to me.  Sure we all know he made a ton of kids pick up strats - but that JagStang tho...

The offset style of guitar is an immediate visual cue that the music that you are about to hear is going to be cool.  You may not like it - you may hate it. But, you can't deny the cool factor of the offset.  Some of the hippest dudes play offsets and you just can see and hear why.  They lend themselves to mods very heavily.  No one really ever aspires for that stock vintage offset the way they do say an early California-made Strat or an American handmade Gibson.  The vintage offsets that the bigger named artists (J Mascis, Nels Cline, Ryan Adams, etc.) have are modded to nth degree.  So that personalization and modding along with the cool visual clue and you have just transformed schlubs into rock royalty. 

Run me through your current pedals and their signal flow?

Guitar - Boss TU-2 Tuner - Boss RV-2 Reverb- FuzzFace Fuzz - Ibanez Bi-Mode Chorus - Electroharmonix Nano Clone Chorus - Way Huge Aqua Puss Analog Delay 

Photo Credit: Rene Floyd

Photo Credit: Rene Floyd

Why do you put your reverb at the beginning of your signal?

Kevin Parker.  He was giving an interview about his signal chain and he mentioned the visual of the traditional chain: a fuzzed-out guitar sound filling a huge cathedral.  Then he posed the idea of the visual of the opposite: a huge cathedral being played through fuzzed out guitar.  I know it sounds like a "high thought", but it really stuck with me.  The next practice I went straight into our space and switched my reverb going into my Fuzz Face. And now, I'll never go back. 

How do you utilize your delay and chorus pedals?

I use my reverb 100% of the time and that gives off the impression that I use my delay pedal a little more that I actually do.  I typically use my delay with a longer delay time with a longer feedback just on the edge of oscillation.  When I engage the delay it is for anthemic choruses or a synth like sound that I going for in combination with a few other pedals.  I do not use delay on every song - although I wish that I could.  I love delay.

I have four chorus options at the moment, which I admit is overkill, but they have their purposes.  I have the chorus on the amp set for a Mac Demarco type of chill sound.  My small clone is for my Prince-like tones.  The Bi-mode has two chorus modes in one pedal with a different set of depth and speed knobs for each mode.  This pedal is used more for the "jam-like" portions of our set, solos, extended jams, and warm up song writing.  I hope to make this pedal part of my signature tone and want to use it more on our full-length record. 

You said you played with more extensive pedal boards in the past.  What finally made you scale it down to only a few pedals?

I think honestly it was mainly a logistical thing.  I was spending too much time, energy, and money to keep pedals on my board, or to make my board as full as possible so that I could have multiples of pedals that I thought I needed.  All these pro players I was watching and trying to keep up with – they all have Bradshaw systems and techs that run their racks.  I am over here with myself trying to tech my board, and keep up with running two different amps at once, and playing four different guitars in different tunings and still trying to look cool and play tasteful shit.  I was just kinda over it.  So when I was playing in my last project, Sons of Sierra, I went down to almost nothing.  I ran tuner, blues driver, and reverb and that was it.  That year of playing shows with just that and the amp and the guitar made me hear my sound differently and realize that I was working way too hard and spending way too much money trying to get a result that was all in my head.  So since then I have been all about simplicity.  

It’s easy to get lost in the search for perfect gear, perfect tone, and the never-ending modifications you can do to your gear.  It’s easy to believe the lies about expensive sounding better and cheaper sounding like shit.  Rene's setup includes some basic, budget-friendly gear – and is a reminder that sound comes from the player first and the equipment second.

Check out Rene’s sound when he plays with ill Smiths on October 17th at Shipping & Receiving in Fort Worth.

Aurora DeWilde of Classic Cult

I’ve just walked into a stranger’s home in a rough Dallas neighborhood.  There are bars on the windows, records on the shelves, and I'm sitting in the dining room under a sign that says Happy Fucking Birthday.  I'm here to see the birthday girl, Aurora DeWilde, rehearse with her band Classic Cult.  I position myself in front of a window AC unit trying to combat the sweltering summer heat that’s engulfing the home.  Aurora shares vegan cupcakes with her band while opening her birthday gifts: a tuner and some homemade collages featuring inspirational female rockers.  After the gift giving is finished and the “Happy Birthdays” are said, the group has some birthday champagne and starts setting up the living room for rehearsal.

Photo Credit:  Kelsie Shelton .  Instagram:    @kelsie_shelton

Photo Credit: Kelsie Shelton.  Instagram: @kelsie_shelton

Hearing the crackling of speakers as cables are being plugged in and the annoying twang of strings finding the right pitch starts to raise my anxiety.  Aurora knows random facts about pedal circuitry and which guitars and amps give her the sound she needs, but Classic Cult hasn’t played a show and has nothing recorded.  I have no idea what they sound like, and my mind is making a lot of assumptions.  I try my best to carry on a casual conversation with the stranger next to me, but out of the corner of my eye I'm watching Aurora set up her gear wondering if she has a great sound or if I’m about to sit through a painful thirty minutes of polite smiling.  Before I know it, the band is playing their first song.

Aurora’s guitar is raw, loud, distorted, and sopping wet with reverb.  She’s playing an onslaught of slow and steady lead riffs - the first of which trails each time with a gradual lean on her Bigsby that moves my butt to the edge of my seat.  Immediately I wish I could exchange my air-conditioned seat for a sweaty one across the room to get a closer look at her fingers.  Far from a flashy player, Aurora’s style seems to step into the spotlight for a few seconds, but knows when to step back into the song and let the lyrics come into focus.  Some of her verses use reverb-covered cleans with some rockabilly slap-back delay, but others use thick layers of distortion to sink into trench-like grooves of rhythm alongside the bass.  The whole rehearsal is a mix of rock 'n' roll chords, catchy lead riffs, and the occasional solo.  The overall tone is aggressive and meant to keep the momentum charging ahead.  But as the rehearsal is winding down, the band shows me a side with less aggression and the tempo slows.  Aurora’s guitar is still clean and covered in reverb, but the strumming is lighter and the chords resonate longer.  

Overall the songs are rooted in a formulaic rock 'n' roll structure, but the chorus sneaks up on you like a killer in a horror flick, managing to creep up on you with an all-out attack.  Aurora’s aggressive fuzzed-out progressions have me contemplating whether the audience will be dancing, punching someone in the face, or some weird mixture of both.  Needless to say, as the rehearsal finished, I had many questions for Aurora.

Photo Credit:  Kelsie Shelton .    Instagram:  @kelsie-shelton

Photo Credit: Kelsie Shelton.  Instagram: @kelsie-shelton

As Aurora and I talk, it's clear where some of her angst and rough edges come from.  Like many of us, her interest in guitar piqued when using it as a tool to attract a member of the opposite sex.  A boy, who remains nameless, fueled an attention-seeking fire that put Aurora on a path to guitar.  Aurora's mother however, despised guitar and wanted her to continue playing violin and also pursue a nursing career.  As a result, when guitars were brought into the home, her mother would break them and throw them out.  Luckily Aurora's father loved the guitar and would keep her well stocked by buying more and letting Aurora sneak them into the home.

Her early guitar playing focused on learning 60's singer/songwriter material, but she remained in a constant state of self-doubt because the other players - specifically boys -  were better than her.  She was consumed with insecurities and would go months at a time without playing. 

While she was self-taught in her early years, the freedom of a car allowed her to take classical guitar lessons for a few semesters, but that style didn't really stick either.  Shortly after moving to Dallas, she got a job teaching lessons and met some new mentors who helped her reach her current state of not giving a damn.  No more giving a shit if the boys are better, no more giving a shit if they even take notice.  Her playing and her sound are her own.  

She made it very clear to me that her only concern now is to play the guitar as much as possible; she wants to learn anything and everything she can about how to play it better.  She said around age 25 she "stopped being Neil Young and started wanting to be David Gilmour."  She’s obsessively driven to be a better musician by learning the details of theory, the subtleties of how pedals work, and how she can mix and match different gear to get the sound she needs.  Aurora explains some of this gear and musical obsession in a Q&A: 

(All answers written directly by artist)

Before we talk about your gear, describe your playing style and your sound. 

My style in this band is straight up rock 'n' roll. Lots of power chords but room for cool riffs and solos. 

What are some of your practice habits?

I teach guitar 20hrs a week, practice with 2 bands a total of 6-12+ hours a week, and practice on my own from 1-4 hours a day. There's practicing and then there's playing. When I practice by myself I'm normally learning theory and applying it to my guitar and then try to learn a new song. 

What is your current guitar and amp setup? 

Gretsch Electromatic G5435T Pro Jet and 212 Fender DeVille Amp. 

How did you decide the Gretsch was the right guitar? 

I was playing my Tele at first and it wasn't giving me the bite I wanted since there is only one guitarist in the band. Not being as strong as most people, I needed a guitar that was lightweight. I used to have a strat made out of swamp ash that was so heavy my back and shoulder would hurt after each show. The Gretsch has 2 Black Top Filter'Tron pickups that are very impressive. To my ears they fill a niche between Fenders and Gibsons, heavier and darker than Fender single-coils yet lighter and brighter than Gibson humbuckers.  The Gretsch's chambered basswood body is lightweight and has a warm sound. As soon as I played it I knew it was the sound I wanted for this project. 

Why do you like the DeVille? 

I bought the DeVille when I was 19 because my friend said that's what they used on all the late night shows. I just wanted the best gear and didn't know really what I was getting. Now I know exactly what I have and I love it except it's super heavy to lift and you cant really turn the volume knob past 2. My favorite feature is the versatility of the tone, from all different eras of classic rock and blues. You can also get a cool Dick Dale sound from the reverb. I've also never had to change a tube in the past 10ish years I've owned it, they are beasts. 

Can you run me through your pedals and their signal flow? 

Boss Chromatic Tuner, ZVex Distortron, Walrus Audio Jupiter Fuzz, Electro Harmonix POG 2, Mooer Hustle Drive Distortion, Moog MF Delay, and Fulltone Supa-Trem. 

I know you like to interchange some pedals. Which ones are they, and why do you switch them out? 

My Ds-1, Fulltone Full-drive 3, and Box of Rock. I bought the BOR even though my friend told me not to and to get the Distortron instead. Now I have both and kicked myself in the ass for it because the Distortron is what I needed even though the BOR comes in handy because you can step on the boost and distortion at the same time. My Mooer distortion is based off the Fulltone OCD and the OCD is based off the Fulltone Full-drive. It also has a boost if I need it but the Mooer has more bite and takes up less space on my board. If I want a thinner, grungier distortion, the Ds-1 is my go to. Nothing else sounds like it and it's perfect for 90's grunge. 

If you can only use one pedal while you're playing in Classic Cult, which one is it? 

My Delay!  If I turn the mix knob up on my Moog Delay you get a really cool am radio sound and it has a drive on it I can use the overdrive pedal for my amp (That one doesn't count) and use my delay to get that rockabilly sound I use for most of the songs or just use my drive on the pedal. The rest would sound great playing clean or just using overdrive. 

What's the story behind the label on your DS-1? 

I was talking to a Dallas-based band and the guitarist had a DS-1 that he wrote "Heavy, Man" on for when he needed more rock. I loved that he did that and it inspired me to make a label that said "Rock Pedal" to put on mine to get some laughs or to spark conversation.

Aurora and Classic Cult are unknown underdogs waiting to prove themselves in a competitive Dallas music scene. Their first attempt to do so will be Thursday, August 27th at Club Dada when they will be sandwiched in a lineup between Ronnie Heart and Zhora. You can make assumptions about Aurora and her band based on this article, or you can head down to the show and find out first-hand what it's all about. I recommend the latter.