by Stephen Smith
Nine Inch Nails recently released their long awaited album Hesitation Marks, and are currently touring North America with their Tension 2013 show. After this they will be teaming up with Queens Of The Stone Age in 2014 for a double assault on Australia and New Zealand. With the tour in full swing I thought it would be good to ask Seymour Duncan artist and longtime Nine Inch Nails collaborator Robin Finck a few questions about him, his gear, touring with Nine Inch Nails, and of course pickups!
What were your inspirations when first starting out on the guitar? Are there any artists now that really inspire you and push you to try new things?
When I really first started I was very square about it. Scholastic or whatever. I was many hours, seated, legs crossed in front of a metronome and really into the mechanics of playing, believe it or not.
Then, when High School began, I met a drummer, and I was standing, amps got bigger and louder. Everything changed dramatically. I gravitated to different players from albums and cassettes and MTV, weekly it seems. But what really inspired me more than any of that were first hand encounters, older kids playing in school bands, the guy on the Promenade, the guy in the wedding band, this kid’s Mom in the kitchen. Whomever I could really drink in at arm’s length.
The hyper reality of those encounters would mark my attention more pointedly than any of the magazines would. Like, I loved Zeppelin and Kiss and all that, but the guy playing Dock Of The Bay on the sidewalk in the blistering sun for no one but me, that cut the deepest groove. I sound like a crazy person.
I saw the new Woody Allen film last night. That made me want to kick ass at something. Explosions In The Sky are opening for NIN right now, and I look forward to listening to them every night. Triumphant cascading vapor. I’m also excited to hear Godspeed You! Black Emperor on the stage. They’ll be joining the tour soon. Trent pushes me to try new things.
You’ve been known to play a number of different types of guitars, and have even had a signature model, but the main guitar you’re seen with live is a Les Paul. What is it about the Les Paul that works for you?
The thing about a Les Paul that grabbed me the most was definitely this: It was the first guitar I put on that had a pitched neck, and the strings being high off the face of the arch top body just seemed to hang right around my shoulder. And the neck was for real. The fact that it was an awesome sounding guitar…. that was a bonus.
I had followed this group of eccentrics I’d met at a Denny’s on Hwy 41 back to their house which wasn’t too far. Turned out to be a half-way house and a million people lived there and they had a band in the basement and the guitar player played a Les Paul. That was the first time I played one. It just felt like a solid thing. It made the Charvel I was playing at the time feel pretty dumb. I worked my ass off mowing lawns and cleaning gutters all summer to buy one on lay-away. I still have that Les Paul. I’ll be playing it tonight at the Air Canada Centre.
The Nine Inch Nails sound has varied and evolved over the years, and trying to capture all of those studio sounds live must be a real challenge. Live you do an awesome job of getting these sounds. What sort of rig do you have set up to cover all of this?
Every tour I’ve done with NIN has been a ‘build-a-rig-from-the-ground-up’ process, usually because technology had changed and there’s newer and more ‘reliable’ or feature laden pieces to work with. Right now I’m playing through a Kemper Profiler with a couple of drawers of pedals and the RJM switching system. There are some mainstay happenings where I’m able to recycle sounds/presets, but there are as many songs that demand part specific presets that are created, well, specifically for that part.
I’m using the Eventide Factor boxes throughout the set and I have a few favorites like the Keeley Comp and Voodoo Lab Proctavia. I have different settings on a Micro POG that Chris (Whitmeyer, tech) is dialing from song to song. There are a few songs where I’m running through Main Stage to get at NI Guitar Rig, at Trent’s request. So my signal is going all over the place.
What are your favorite songs to play live? What is it about them that makes them so good to play live, crowd reaction, etc?
My favorite moments of the set are usually which ever songs are about third and fourth in the set. It’s the good time to have had a second to shake the dust off from the day and to really find my heart start to race. That could be “Terrible Lie” or “March of the Pigs” or others. They change about.
You’re known to use a few Seymour Duncan pickups in your guitars. What are your favourites, and what is it about them that helps get the sound you want?
I think just about every one of my guitars has Seymour Duncan pickups in them. I’ve been playing them since the first time I was fortunate enough to take the taste test of several pickups in like guitars. Several hundred years ago, my tech at the time put ‘similar’ pickups from three different companies in three different Gold Top Les Pauls, neck and bridge. After a bit of play I simply chose one set over the others and it was the Duncans. I went on to inquire about the company a little bit, the artists using them and the styles of pickups offered. Seymour Duncan seemed to offer every type of pickup and for any type of guitar. I’ve just never felt the need to listen elsewhere.