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DIESEL-Days Like These

DIESEL- Days Like These
September 10, 2008 | Author: Greg Phillips

diesel-announces-days-like-these-national-tourThe career path taken by singer, songwriter and ace guitarist Diesel has never been easily defined nor intentionally mapped out. From frontman of Johnny Diesel and the Injectors, to ARIA Award winning solo artist,  a six year stint in New York which generated just one album, to a more recent period in which albums have arrived at almost annual intervals … the journey has been quite mercurial. It’s not until you speak with Diesel, that you begin to understand his modus operandi. He’s not one to make plans, preferring to sail wherever life’s breeze cares to take him.  Diesel has just released another album. It’s called ‘Days Like These’, recorded quickly and purposefully  with the assistance of Richie Vez on bass and Lee Moloney on drums. Longtime fans will revel in the fact that Diesel’s dexterous guitar licks play a central role in the creation of this quality pop rock production. Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips spoke with Diesel just prior to the album’s release.

This is your 8th album. Once you write it, record it and send it out into the world, what do you hope it achieves?
I don’t really have any prerequisites. I don’t have anything to measure it by. I just enjoy the process, and part of the process is going around playing it live. Ultimately I suppose it’s when people respond and it goes beyond the little sanctum of the three people who made the record. it gets larger and larger. That’s the benefit for me. The writing period was really the recording period.
All up we recorded 17 tracks and 10 of them are on the album.

On vinyl there’s 15 tracks. All up there was around 10 or 12 days of recording. There were some overdubs done later but basically the tracks were done really quickly. It was probably the fastest writing process for me ever.

Let’s talk about some tracks. The title track, ‘Days Like These’ has a very bright string sound and some alternate tuning …
Yeah, it’s funny that you picked that. The electric has standard tuning, but the 12 string is a big part of the guitar sound, an acoustic 12 stringer down in D, which is kind of baritone. Some people call it the Leadbelly sound where the high string is where the low string goes, it is two octaves up instead of one.

And the bass, there’s a very elastic sound going on there …
I guess I was trying to make it sound like an upright bass sound. Not having an upright bass, I used what I had. I later got an upright bass for a couple of tracks on the album, but I had an old fretless acoustic bass made by K Yairi, a Japanese hand made small maker of guitars. I just slapped it with my hand on the fretboard, didn’t pick it with my fingers.

Many of the songs seem to have a nod and a wink to famous rock songs or licks, is that a fair comment?
Yeah, a lot of classic sounds that kind of came out of nowhere and even surprised me. The outro on ‘Lay Down Here’ gets into ‘Watchtower’ territory, but with Hendrix … who plays guitar and is not into him? Not many.

‘Need Your Fire’ has that classic warm blues sound…
We had a really old console that just suited some of the songs we were doing at that point, a 1969 Quad-Eight console.  But it really does have a signature sound. When I brought the tracks up in my studio environment, it all sounded a bit too 1969 … 1970, so I had to bring it up a bit to make it more ‘now’, whatever that is. I just needed to bring it into what the rest of the record was sounding like. It was nice to have that real warmth. It’s so strong and made an impression and no matter what you do to it, it’s still going to be there.

You produced and engineered the album, why did you take that
on yourself?
I just enjoy it. More than anything I enjoy the freedom to be able to do what I want, when I want. It’s not that I don’t enjoy working with other people, they are both challenges. Because the three of us all worked on the album and songs together, we also shared production ideas. I’m just one of these people who likes to do it all.

On the last album you used two amps, a Vox AC30 and a Pro Junior, did you do the same this time?
I went a completely different way this time. I’m very much like that. It worked for that record. I guess what dictated it this time was that I moved house and no longer had the rooms that were close to each other but with separation between them.  I had to bring it down to one thought. Which wasn’t a bad thing and I discovered a lot of small amps, I mean really small, even those mini amps. ‘Something Good’ is all mini amps, a battery operated Fender Tonemaster and a five watt amp that a friend made me which has been put into a Pathfinder casing, pure valves, hand wired. It’s not very loud obviously but I put some small, delicate esoteric microphones in front of these little amps and  you can get amazing sounds. I have large gauge strings on my guitar so I get a lot of bottom end, sometimes almost too much, and when I’m recording I have to get rid of it, but with these amps, it’s great because they don’t have a lot of it to start with. You don’t get the proximity effect as much. It really speaks to the mic and that’s what you really want. Whatever you are doing, speak to the mic because that is what is doing the job for you. Things that sound really loud and gutsy can sound like shit in front of a microphone a lot of the time. I did most of the guitars in a little room next to my studio and used a ribbon mic. I did a couple of tracks at the beginning with a 57 and a 414 then I thought, you know what, I just want to use one mic. So I used an AEA, like an RCA copy, quite a  large ribbon mic on an angle facing down toward the speaker, a ten inch Jensen, a little box made by my friend up in Queensland. One speaker, one ribbon and it really just came alive. I think it is the most happy I have been so far with guitar sound and then I  started trying to do that on everything, acoustics, cello. The only thing I didn’t do was sing into it. It was just a bit too sensitive. Some people sound great on ribbon. It’s been said, you know, ribbons just make everything sound great, really natural. If I can’t get a decent sound out of the guitars that I have got, a ribbon mic, a Neve and a Pre, an LA 2A compressor, I need to sack myself. Keep it simple and you can’t go wrong. I mean a room can have a really bad honk to it, it can make it hard but I know what I want. I hear it, I feel it. Nine times out of ten my gut instinct is the right one. With this record there were no retakes or re-dos because I kind of mix it as I go.

What were your main guitars?
I tended to lean toward the bigger hollow bodied guitars. I’ve got the two Falcons, a silver and a white one. They have a bit more of an acoustic vibe about them. I was trying to keep the album as singular as I could in relation to the guitars. There are overdubs on there, but I wanted to hear that one guitar all the time, a recognition factor. Hollow bodies have so much harmonic content and pretty good coverage, kind of the opposite to a Telecaster which just cuts right through. I picked up the Tele quite a bit too. The combination of the two was great. I felt lucky that I’d got hold of a Tele before they were 50 grand. I’ve got a 67 Deluxe and it’s just awesome.

Did you use the Mini Maton at all?
The Mini Maton is great for doing the National type tuning. The MinI Maton is the best National guitar you’ll ever find. The six string is great for recording, doesn’t take up so much room. They sit in the track straight away.

What was it that you saw in Mark Malmborg’s original Marand guitar which became the Mini Maton?
Mid range. I just love mid range. Sweet mids. It’s got enough bottom and warmth. The tops are nice too. It is like a slightly smaller parlour guitar. Peanut shaped body I call it. I just had a feeling they were going to be really good with a pick up in it. Plug it in and it was going to project and not feedback as much. I asked him to make me one with a pick up in it and he said “Really? You going to use it on stage?” Before that they were being used for people who were travelling or writing around the house. So I got that and the number was 001 or 002, pretty much the first he put a number on. I remember the day I got it, and I had bigger ones on me, and the sound guy just said “You gotta use that!” I was like yeah, you can hear it. Especially with the band, it still pokes through. Trying to get an acoustic guitar that is still loud with a three piece group is not easy believe me and I managed to get it.

You’ve had a career stretching two decades now. How do you feel about the way our established acts are treated in Australia?
It’s a young country Australia and we’ve still got a bit of growing up to do. We still haven’t grown into our own skin yet. It’s a bit like, what are we going to do with this? Someone like Richard Clapton for instance is just an amazing songwriter. It seems people are really appreciating him at the moment, which is great. He has albums going back to 1973 or something. In other countries someone of his ilk would be more respected. I mean nobody wants to shove them out the door or anything, but it’s a weird thing in this country. We’re still like gawky teenagers in a way, but I do think it is changing. Also I think stuff of quality survives and comes to the top eventually anyway. It’s a funny thing because per capita Australia has produced an insane amount of music. It’s almost like it is too much. Which it’s not but it gets a bit hard to acknowledge
it all.

I was speaking with Swanee earlier in the year about the bad old days of booze and drugs for him, and I asked him who does it right. His immediate answer was Diesel. What difference do you think it makes to your music to stay fit and focussed in your life?
For me, that’s what I need to do. For my mental state more than anything. I’m a really cerebral person. When I’m on stage I get lost in the music. When I am not doing that I tend to hyper-think. I need to do things that connect my brain to my body. Otherwise I am just this alien with a brain floating around with no body. So yeah, running, keeping fit are good things for me and grounds me, and reminds me I am not just a brain but a breathing body, human being, flesh and blood … you know? It’s that simple. I like the pureness of sport and pushing yourself. I believe we are all too comfortable. Good food and good beds. So it’s not like punishing myself ,but a bit of pain, it reminds me that being uncomfortable is a part of life. You can’t always be comfortable in your own little cocoon all the time. That’s why I do it. It’s not like I am anti this or that or mister clean living. Each to his own and that’s what works for me.

Any unfulfilled goals? What about another blues album?
I’d like to. I never say never. I could make one every month, it’s finding the time. The good thing about a blues album is that it took two weeks to do. I’ve just got to get the time to sit down with Mr Wilson. I’d love to do another album with Chris because he is such a mind blowing musician. I kind of factor him in as being the curator of a lot of that stuff. He has such a massive record collection. He brought so many great songs to the table. But really, I just attack each day, that’s the goal for me. I never look that far ahead of myself to be honest. I never have. I was speaking with my drummer the other night, just sitting down having a D&M. I said ‘do you make plans? I never make plans, do you? Some people make plans don’t they!’ I was rattling off people that make five year plans and then they do it, they execute it and they have done that all their lives. And I said to him, ‘we don’t, what’s wrong with us?’ I just get tugged along by the music. I let life’s accidents happen. That’s how things have always happened for me. It’s not my personality to make plans.