With their improvisational, pyschedelic sound, San Francisco band Wooden Shjips are putting the proverbial finger to the formulaic output of much of the current chart toppers. We interviewed guitarist Erik “Ripley” Johnson recently. The album sounds analog – authentically low-fi in parts, nicely devoid of excessive pro tools frills. On what was it recorded and how long did the process take? ‘The album was recorded on a Tascam 80-8 recorder, with a Teac Model 5 board. It is an 8-track, 1/2–inch reel-to-reel machine from the 70’s or 80’s. We tried to keep the recording fairly straightforward. A lot of our gear is vintage, our amps are tube, so that contributes to the sound also. It probably took a few weeks from start to mix down. We didn’t have a continuous chunk of time to devote solely to this project, but we recorded it ourselves in our practice studio, so we were able to stagger the sessions’.
Is the San Fran music scene still as vibrant and vital as it was back in the day? ‘Hard to say what it was really like back then. But it certainly doesn’t match up to the romantic idea of the 60s scene. Obviously, times are different. Personally, I think it’s too expensive in San Francisco now to support that kind of full-on scene. However, there always seems to be interesting bands in the Bay Area. We’ve played with some great bands in the last year — Sic Alps, Howlin Rain, Ascended Master, Rahdunes — but I don’t have the sense of a cohesive scene. I think that may contribute to the diversity of the sounds. There’s no one San Fran sound’.
Great to hear the wah wah pedal in use in a contemporary recording. I thought it had gone out with the rise of the indie-shoegazers. Are the guitar effects used on the album old school pedals? ‘It’s a mix of old and new. There a number of great boutique pedal companies nowadays. It used to be you’d have to pay exorbitant prices for vintage pedals, which may or may not work or sound good. Now you can pay exorbitant prices for pedals that are new and work really well! On the album I use a Real McCoy Custom 3 wah, a new Electro Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man, and the “vintage” effects are an MXR Distortion Plus and Phase 100,and a Maestro Echoplex. There might also be some Big Muff on the guitar. Nash uses a bunch of stuff on the keys also: a Moogerfooger, and old flanger and analog delay, some other things. It’s a big soup of effects’.
There was a lot of improvisation in early Shjips gigs. Does the necessity to tighten that for an album recording change the musical outlook of the group at all? ‘Actually, we didn’t feel the necessity to tighten up for the album. That just happens naturally during the recording process. Mostly, I think, because there are so many technical chores to attend to while recording. If anything, we want to loosen up more for the recordings. We’re hoping to record more of a live sound for the next album’.
Listen to the Wooden Shjips track, Lucy’s Ride.