Admitting that you’re a fan of pop rock, power punk and everything in between has always been deeply uncool. But the increasingly popular Slam Dunk, an all day multi-stage travelling music festival, has well and truly broken the ‘guilty pleasure’ shackles off all of those sub-genres for closet fans throughout the UK and indeed, those travelling in especially from mainland Europe. We were there on the penultimate date of the roadshow and managed to catch up with three bands playing the outdoor Jägermeister -sponsored main stage – Motion City Soundtrack, Mallory Knox and headliners All American Rejects.
All American Rejects – Nick Wheeler
Is this your first Slam Dunk Festival?
This’ll be our first Slam Dunk. We’ve been doing festivals over here for 12 years - as long as we’ve been touring. But we haven’t done a travelling kind of Warped tour style festival here yet or overseas period! So this is a first for us.
All American Rejects have been together for 15 years, how would you describe the dynamic in the band and has it changed at all over the years?
We’ve toured with bands who constantly fight; I’ve seen documentaries of bands that constantly fight. A documentary about us would not be interesting at all because we get along actually pretty well! We’re four completely different people whose friendship is based on this band and this band is like any relationship – opposites attract; we’re four ends of the compass and this is where we come together. We also really like each other and really enjoy each other’s company, so that helps. We’ve managed to get a long for fifteen years and I think as far as the band dynamic changing – the dynamic is what our band is. I don’t think that will ever change.
In terms of new material – is there anything that you’ve worked up since your last record?
Right now we’re in a place where we’ve been together for 15 years. We’ve been touring non-stop for over a decade and we just wanted to take a break. Not from the band, it’s not like a hiatus situation; we’re just trying to get our lives together. We’re all in our thirties now and we still act like children! We’re lucky as hell. When you step away and you get to come back – this is when I get to come hang out with my friends and I get to do what I love. We’re not going to write another record that helps us evolve as a band or as songwriters until we step away and we forget how we did the last record. This time it’s just taken a little longer, but we hope to start getting in the swing of things again soon. I’m starting to feel the urge and I’m starting to want to do it again, which is what you’ve got to wait for if you want to have fun, otherwise you burn out.
How would you describe your relationship with Gibson?
I haven’t not played a Gibson for 10 years. Gibson’s are fantastic guitars and I’ve recorded with them my whole life, but on stage when we were a new band – I just wanted what looked cool and I love Firebirds. It turns out that I got really lucky and the more mid-high range stuff that I do, less gain with open-tunings and more arpeggiated stuff – it really sounds great through those mini-humbuckers. It was in 2002/2003 that Gibson gave me my first Firebird for the ‘Swing, Swing’ video and I hadn’t even plugged it in yet, I just played it in the video because I thought it looked cool. Now I have the logo tattooed on my arm! I’ve stuck with them, I love them. I’ve been to the Gibson factory, I’ve seen the people hand making the guitars – I know it’s special. I really appreciate everything they’ve done for me.
Who are your favourite guitarists?
When I grew up it was Richie Sambora and Phil Collen from Def Leppard who were my idols. I used to think Jimmy Page was sloppy and I wasn’t a fan, but now all the flaws in his playing are perfect and I love those recordings. I’ve also really gotten into a lot of jazz guitarists. West Montgomery and Kenny Burrell were the two that I heard and thought that I could actually like jazz! I got to see Kenny Burrell at a dinner jazz club, it was awesome, I ate a steak and I watched Kenny Burrell play jazz. 10 years ago I would kick my ass knowing I would say that!
Mallory Knox – James Gillett and Joe Savins
For those who haven’t heard of Mallory Knox, how would you describe the band?
James: We’re a rock band, but with pop hooks.
Joe: A rock band that isn’t afraid of being catchy. We just always loved pop music and we grew up loving rock, so a natural combination of the two.
You’ve just finished making your second album; how would you compare the recording process with that of your debut?
Joe: I would say they were drastically different! We wanted to go a bit more rocky. We did the new album with Gil Norton who did a few of the Foo Fighters records and that was a very conscious decision, it wasn’t just because he was a big name, it was because we wanted a rock producer. We thought we’d have a go at writing a rock record that we would love and we would go out and buy.
James: We definitely did our research on what Gil had done, so we feel very honoured to have worked with him because he was great.
Joe: Stylistically, it’s relatively similar, but we knew Gil would kick out the last bit of emo in us! That’s where the pressure is because we’ve been bold with the record and tried to step it up. No matter how confident you are as a band, when you make that big record in theory, it’s always a nervous time.
James: The debut was done in two and a half weeks. We’d never done pre-production before. We had a week of that and that was so strange to us because we’re a band that when we write songs, we don’t finish the song unless it’s going to be a single. So that’s why we only had 14 songs going into the recording process, where a lot of bands have 20/30 and then sieve out the ones that don’t come out that great.
Joe: There were a few moments of our egos being knocked. We’d be lying if we said there wasn’t. But when it got to the recording it was so thorough – there wasn’t a single stone left unturned. On our first record we recorded all the guitars into the computer and then fed them back out to the amps. We just got a good distortion and played the whole album through and recorded it back in. But this time, we had 10 heads, 10 guitars and we’d just sit there for two hours just dialling in the right tone. That was weird. It was good, but it was so long and by the end of it I was ready for it to be done to be honest!
James: It was great though, it’s definitely an experience that we’d wanted from being a band. You watch your favourite artists and they just sit there in the studio, they’re writing, they get a sound and play through – that’s a guitarists dream really, to just sit there and be able to really dial in a tone that’s going to suit the song. So for us we had a bit of a fun day.
Joe: We geeked out gear-wise!
When did you start playing Gibson ?
Joe: I started playing Gibson when I was about 12. I got a Gibson SG Standard and I still play it now. I just love that guitar, it’s been through the wars, I once snapped a bit off of it being too vigorous on stage! We’ve always loved Gibson. I remember being sat round James’ house when we were 11/12 years old just looking at Les Pauls online, you grow up and you worship it.
James: My dad had this Les Paul Custom and that was his dream guitar; he’d always wanted one. He finally got it and I can’t remember how old I was at the time, about 14/16, I remember him getting it and thinking it was the best looking guitar ever and he would never let me use it. Until we played a massive festival main stage last year and he let me use it then. I’ve used it for every gig since – that’s my main guitar now. I like the little relation there that it’s my dad’s.
Joe: I’ve got severe guitar-envy of that guitar! All black Les Paul Custom. Our core sound is Gibson. You listen to our album and you’re listening to Gibsons through Marshall amps – that’s basically it.
James: Even though we play pop rock songs, as guitarists we’re very much rock. It’s the Gibson/Marshall thing. It’s just what you hear and that’s what you love.
What guitarists do you hold in high esteem?
Joe: Noel Gallagher. I know he’s not the most technically proficient guitarist; it’s just his understanding of how to make a guitar effective – that’s what I respect. I don’t respect shredding solos. He knew what he needed to do to make an amazing song and that’s how I’ve always tried to be.
James: I think that shows in our music, because we’re both Noel Gallagher fans and the riffs we use in music are very simple. A lot of the time it’s four, five, six notes, but it’s put in a way that it catches someone’s ear. We’re not big on soloing but I am very much a Justin and Dan Hawkins fan, both of them. I’m very big on The Darkness and I think they’re brilliant guitarists, I really appreciate that, but for our band we very much keep it simple but catchy to the ear.
You are due to play a set here at Slam Dunk Festival today; will you be including any new material?
Joe: We’re going to be playing a track off the new album, which we’re hoping will be a single at some point. It’s been going down well; we played it on our last tour. People seem to be connecting with it; it’s all over YouTube – that’s the first release of our brand new song!
James: We got one new song in there, but other than that we’re playing ‘the hits’. Trying to squeeze them in!
Motion City Soundtrack – Josh Cain
What has Motion City Soundtrack been up to this year?
We’ve been writing music and playing. We did this acoustic two day performance where we reworked the songs from our first record, because it’s been two years since the release of it. We broadcast that live on the internet and it was a new thing for us to try out. We just did that and now when we get back, we’re going to make a record.
Have you started working on the new record yet?
We’ve got 30 songs written, we’re going to probably only record 12 of them. It’ll be fun; it starts at the beginning of June. We’re mostly looking to capture the live/audience/band relationship that we have – on a record.
What Gibson’s do you have on tour with you at the moment?
I only brought one guitar with me because I don’t like to carry a lot of stuff overseas. But I brought the SG Jeff Tweedy model, Pelham Blue – it’s awesome, I love it. It’s my favourite guitar right now. I was obsessed with SG’s as a kid, that was my first guitar and I’ve just stuck with them. SG Junior has been my signature guitar through my entire career with this band, but this last year I’ve started playing this Jeff Tweedy Standard and I’m enjoying that too.
Which guitarists do you admire?
I was obsessed with J Mascis growing up; he was just such a badass guitar player. Also J Robbins from Jawbox, just the style. I’m not so traditional with my guitar playing – I don’t know how to shred, necessarily. I like noises. I love Joey Santiago from The Pixies. I like people that use it as a noisemaker.
You’re doing a signing for the fans today here at Slam Dunk Festival – how do you find that experience?
It’s semi-awkward, semi-awesome! Part of it is so we connect with people and that’s what we really like. We play shows and normally what we do is come hang out and talk to people. We don’t sit behind a desk, sign autographs and make it real official. Just mingle, meet people and try to keep it at more a personal connection basis. I think we signed a piece of bread once! It doesn’t work very well. Mainly it’s lots of foreheads!
Photo Credit: Graham Finney