Talking Tone With Larry Roberts Of Novembers Doom
Chicago death/doom pioneers Novembers Doom are preparing to unleash their new album, and guitarist Larry Roberts continues to wave the Seymour Duncan flag proudly. We thought it was time we checked in to see where his gear preferences are at and what we can expect from the new record.
So you’re using the Black Winter: what guitar/s do you use it in and what do you like about it?
I’ve been using the Black Winter pickups in my various baritone scale guitars (27″ length) for a while now, and couldn’t be happier with the results. We’re tuned to A# with very heavy strings so I need pickups that will handle that and sound heavy without sacrificing clarity, and the Black Winter pickups do that perfectly. Our music often changes drastically from very overdriven heavy distorted parts to delicately picked clean bits, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Black Winter could handle both without sacrificing anything tonally. Plus I am big on utilizing my guitar’s volume and tone knobs to vary my sound and attack during any given song. Sometimes I’ll just roll down the tone and volume a bit, maybe flip to toggle switch to the middle-position, without switching to the clean channel in order to get that perfectly gritty but “clean” tone. And honestly, to this point I have yet to find a set of pickups that work as well in that capacity as the Black Winter pickups do. At least to my ears! Hopefully more people will realize that the Black Winter pickups not only work great in the extreme metal world but are also quite versatile for other styles as well. They can easily get pretty extreme and brutal if you want them to be, but there’s much more to them than that I’ve found.
Do you have other favourite Seymour Duncan pickups right now?
LARRY: All of them! But seriously I have Seymour Duncan pickups in all of my guitars right now and they work in various applications. For some of the leads on our new album, I used an LTD EC-401VF with Invader pickups because I wanted a little extra bite and I was able to pull some incredible harmonics out of it. I also used a Telecaster with two humbuckers (Alnico II APH 1-B in the bridge, and a JB in the neck) for some cleans and some slide guitar parts. I’ve been using Seymour Duncan pickups for years, since I was a kid basically! And they’ve been a part of our sound since the first Novembers Doom album I was a part of, “The Knowing”, back in 2000 until now. I really like the sound of the Nazgul too. I’m thinking about getting back into using some 7-string guitars live onstage again along with the baritones and standard-scale 6 strings, so I might try Nazgul pickups in one of them to see how that goes.
How are you using the Forza in your rig and what do you like about it compared to other ODs?
I’m a big fan of overdrive pedals in general, again because I really love that ability to control crunch and drive moreso using my guitar’s knobs, pickups and an OD pedal as opposed to just having a three or four channel switching head with tons of gain dialed in. In the live setting, I’m using the Forza mainly for my leads or for clean/gritty sections, often along with the SD Pickup Booster pedal engaged (especially during solos). The Forza sounds fabulous through the clean channel, it has so much character without altering my guitar’s tone too drastically, which really impresses me compared to many other OD pedals I’ve tried. I usually set the EQ bass-mid-treble all at about the 1 p.m. position, with the drive about 1/3rd up and the level about 2/3rd up. Because I am often using different backlines at shows when we travel (especially overseas) my pedals are very important to me, and my Duncan pedals have not let me down. I was a big fan of the 805 pedal (and still am), so now I’m using both the 805 and the Forza on my pedalboard. The 805 is utilized moreso for adding bite and color to my rhythms, and the Forza to dirty up the cleans and for all of my solos. That Forza pedal really allowed me to pull out some of my George Lynch worshiping licks on the new album, haha!
What can you tell us about the new album so far?
Well the new album is titled Hamartia and is coming out on TheEndRecords/BMG in the early part of 2017. It’s our tenth full-length album, and we’re still pushing ourselves to try new things and not be stagnant, while still retaining our trademark sound. And honestly, it doesn’t get any easier as the years go on. But I think we’ve come up with something special this time, and managed to move forward from where we were with 2014’s “Bled White” cd. That was a fairly dark and aggressive album, and while there’s still that element present on the new cd, I think it’s balanced with more mood and melodic elements. I’m not a big fan of comparing to past things we’ve done, but honestly I think there’s elements on this album that will appeal to fans of our older albums like The Knowing or To Welcome The Fade, But I don’t think we’ve taken a step backwards or anything, just similarities in terms of a more somber, moody tone throughout the disc.
What do you do to challenge yourself as a guitarist?
Well again, it gets tougher as you get older because it’s easy to become complacent or bored when you’ve generally been playing the same style of music for many years. So a good way to challenge myself is by playing music that isn’t typically what I’d sit around and play. Sometimes I’ll hear something like some old bluegrass licks or something in a Kraftwerk tune or in a movie soundtrack, and I’ll grab my guitar and force myself to figure out how to play it, or how to translate it onto the guitar if it’s done on a different instrument, and so forth. It breaks me out of the habit of playing the same chords, patterns and licks all the time. On each new album I try to do something new that I haven’t done on our previous albums. This time I actually pulled out some two-handed tapping riffs for lead guitar bits, which is something I did way back in the day but then abandoned for years now because it became too overused or just didn’t fit into what we were doing. I decided to challenge myself to figure out a way to make it work within the context of our music, rather than just turn my nose up at it. And it came out cool, I think, so I’m glad I did it!
The death/doom genre seems particularly strong right now. I’m seeing young fans as well as lifers at a lot of gigs. Why do you think that is? What is it about this genre that hits people so hard and sticks with them?
It does seem like death/doom, or the stoner/doom or drone/doom and so forth, are really catching on more now especially here in the States. For years it was something of the “bastard child” of the metal scene and made it very hard to succeed, again especially here in the U.S. where people are so particularly obsessed with sticking to just specific sub-genres and usually preferring those that are faster or more technical. I think people are not only being more easily exposed to this style of music now due to the internet etc., but I think doom appeals more to the people who don’t just want their music to be fast and technical all the time. Various bands who’ve incorporated elements of death and/or doom into their sound over the years have now gotten quite popular and I think that helps open doors for younger listeners to seek out similar sounds or explore deeper. We’ve always been categorized as a death/doom band but we have so much else going on in our music too, lots of progressive rock and folk and classic rock influences in there too. And I think it’s those elements along with the melodic hooks that a band like ours, or My Dying Bride, or Pallbearer and so forth, are able to grab people’s attention on a deeper level. We write songs with hooks and melodies and lyrics that aren’t just meant to be a quick fix or something that can be quickly and easily digested and make your head spin for a minute before you move on. And as such, it actually has the ability to appeal to lots of different kinds of people with different tastes because many death/doom bands actually contain more than just “death” and “doom” in their music. It’s been a bit of a hidden gem in the scene that finally more people are taking notice of, and I’m happy to see it happening. It’s certainly taken long enough, which I suppose is fitting! *Laughs*