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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.