Interview: Tiny Moving Parts' Dylan Mattheisen Talks Alternate Tunings, Tapping, and His Beloved Thinline Teles

Over nearly a decade of touring and four full-length albums, Tiny Moving Parts have made a name for themselves with a unique brand of energetic rock that’s equal parts math rock and Midwest emo. At the heart of all of it is the band’s frontman, Dylan Mattheisen, whose virtuosic riffs and emotion-filled hooks are a spectacle to see on a stage.

Tiny Moving Parts - Swell

With the band touring in support of their latest release, Swell, we had a chance to catch up with Mattheisen before TMP's Chicago date earlier this year to talk about a love of Telecasters, guitar-based acrobatics, and what went into their latest record.

Is there something specific about the Fender Thinline Telecaster that works for you or a reason that you have been using them?

When I was like 17, I knew I wanted to get a Fender. I guess I always thought they were badass and sounded really cool. We worked at a grocery store in our hometown in Benson, Minnesota, so I saved up all the money and just bought the green one—basically because I really loved the color. I just thought it looked really cool, and I knew I wanted a Telecaster or a Stratocaster—one of the two. So, I bought it and no regrets.

That was nine years ago, and it’s like my baby—I love it so much. We do a lot of different tunings live and when we write songs, so I knew I didn’t want to spend three minutes at a time re-tuning everything and putting a cable on and stuff. I knew I wanted to get a couple more, and I just thought, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I absolutely love these guitars, and they play smooth and get the sound that I want.

Do you knock those switches around a lot when you play?

Yes, exactly. I tape it right in the middle.

Mattheisen's Fender Thinline Telecasters

I actually wanted to ask you about your tunings. How did you first start playing in open tunings, and how did you settle on where you are now?

Basically, there’s this band that we all love from Philadelphia called Algernon Cadwallader, and I wanted to learn one of the intros to one of their songs. It was just a nice little riff in this D-A-E-A-C#-E tuning, and I was like, “What the hell is this?” I had no idea.

So I tuned to that and learned the intro and showed it to Matt and Bill. I just kept mucking around with it, and it just kind of clicked. It’s doing sounds that I don’t know if I could find in standard.

It kind of broadened my horizons, and I’ve been doing that stuff, but it’s always nice to go back to something like drop D. Some songs on the new record are in C# and, you know, it’s kind of cool to get that variety.

Tiny Moving Parts - "Caution" (Official Video)

Can you tell us a little bit about what amps you’re playing through? I love the customization with the dogs and the Blazer logo.

Yes, thank you. Originally, this was a 60-watt Fender Super-Sonic. It was a combo with a 1x12 speaker in it, but we took the speaker out. My friend built the shape out of wood for the head, then I just got two Super-Sonic 2x12 cabs. I just love it.

I know they quit making the 60-watt Super-Sonic head, and I'm terrified to have something break because then I’m screwed. I love the tone so much, and I’ve gotten compliments in the past. Hopefully, we don’t break it or shit doesn’t go wrong.

How did you get the dogs on there?

I wanted to do something different every tour. We did a winter run a couple of years ago, and I put snowflakes all over it and a big light up snowflake in the middle with candy canes on it and it looked so awesome.

I had to switch it for the next tour after that, of course, and I did the dogs. I was like, I can’t stop this. I was all ready to take it apart and put something new on it—like go to a fabric store and find something—but I felt bad like, I can’t get rid of it.

Mattheisen's 60-watt Fender Super-Sonic

Can you walk us through your pedalboard?

So on this tour, I only use the volume pedal, DL4, RC-30, and Polytune. I recently got this Ernie Ball MVP volume pedal, and it’s one of those things where I didn’t realize how important it was until I got one. The idea of me not having one would drive me crazy now. It’s sick, and it does what it needs to do, you know? It hasn’t broken or anything on me.

This is like my fourth Line6 DL4. I love the way they sound. I use it for the looping, and I have a little stutter effect that I do, so it’s like an infinite brr and it doesn’t turn off unless I turn it off, you know? I just really love the pedal, and I’m on my fourth one because I keep breaking it.

My friend from Minneapolis fixes them up, and he actually has one that he made me that’s modded, so instead of going down and twisting it to switch to the loop mode, you just click a button up here and it’ll switch. It’s weird how convenient that is instead of going down and twisting it. I tend to use it in every song, even if it’s just an ending thing. It’s such a cool pedal to be creative and have fun with.

The Polytune I use is nice, pretty quick out of all the tuners I’ve tried. My distortion and clean is just the Super-Sonic. I don’t use any overdrive pedals or anything. I know that a lot of people have been asking about what distortion I use, but I just really love the sound of the Super-Sonic so much.

Not using the Boss BD-2 anymore?

No, no. See, that’s the thing, because for some songs, it feels like a distorted quieter guitar or something like that. Now I have the volume pedal, so I just turn it down. This actually has a gain knob on it, so I can have it super distorted at times, too, and it kind of defeats the purpose of having the Blues Driver—for me at least, for what we do.

Mattheisen's pedalboard

Do you find yourself buying pedals and experimenting with them, or are you pretty locked in with what you use?

I’m kind of feeling comfortable with everything I have right now, which is great. But you also don’t want to get too comfortable—you always want to try new things and experiment.

Thankfully, a lot of my friends are gear nerds, and they always recommend me things. It’s one of those things where I wouldn’t think of trying out a pedal, and they’ll be like, “You have to try this out,” and I’m like, “Okay, I’ll try it.” And then I end up falling in love with it.

Watching live videos of you perform, it blows my mind how you’re able to play so technically and still sing over the top. How did that come together for you? Was it hard for you to play and sing like that at first?

Honestly, I didn’t really think too much of it until people started saying “How do you do that at the same time?” We always write the song instrumentally and add vocals to it after, so when we add the vocals, it’s already kind of muscle memory. And then, of course, constantly practicing and playing a lot. Anybody can do it.

Tiny Moving Parts - "Applause" (Official Video)

Did you approach writing or recording Swell any differently than you did writing or recording Celebrate or Pleasant Living?

Not really. Even when we finished Celebrate, we just kept writing right away. We’re always playing, and it’s a fun hobby. It’s not like I’m sick of guitar or sick of drums or anything like that. We just keep writing so we don’t get to the point of, “Oh shit, we have a month before we get into the studio, we’ve got to force-write some shit.” We just always keep the window open and just feel it out. Whatever happens, happens.

Over the last couple of records, you guys have seemed to nail the 30-minute, 10- to 12-song album. Is that a conscious decision or does that just happen?

We always said we wanted to do like ten songs—a nice half hour. You can listen to the record start to finish like one gigantic song. I heard that Migos released a record the same day as us, and I think the record is like an hour and a half. It’s like, “What the hell?” It’s crazy.

What were some records that influenced Swell or the band as a whole? Who are some bands that you look to when you are writing?

Doppelganger by The Fall of Troy was a huge record that we still jam out to once in a while. That’s what really got us into tapping and fast playing and spastic crazy start/stop stuff. I feel like that’s what kind of makes us different from a lot of bands these days, which is pretty cool.

I feel like we just keep listening to the same stuff like that, and friend's bands like Pup, Modern Baseball, and Jeff Rosenstock. You always find some sort of influence in anything you do in general and especially with that stuff. It’s fun to sing along, it’s interesting, and as long as it’s interesting from start to finish, that’s cool. You don’t have to go a million miles an hour. As long as it’s cool and keeps the listener happy and it’s fun to play live, it’s a win-win.

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