Reverb Interview: Jesse Parmet, Guitarist for The Yawpers

The Yawpers - American Man

The Yawpers manage to fuse furious-but-thoughtful songs about small-town disappointments with overdriven acoustic guitars and a thunderous presentation that incorporates elements of bluegrass, hardcore and heartland rock, all while straddling the line between Bruce Springsteen and R.L. Burnside’s Delta Blues.

Jesse Parmet, guitar player for the band, sat with Reverb to discuss the recording of the band’s new album, American Man, his three-amp setup and pedalboard, and the challenge of holding down the low end without a bass player.

When you were recording American Man, were you using any gear in new or unexpected ways? Anything that you repurposed or tortured?

Solid State Logic SL6000E

Andrew Berlin, the engineer at The Blasting Room, had this great SSL console. He was able to patch in all sorts of great outboard gear. One of my guitar pedals that always makes its way into the mixing process is this Moogerfooger analog delay pedal. It's from eight or 10 years ago; I don't think that model is available. But it has a great kind of slapback and we always use it on the vocals. That's a staple for us. You can have it there on the desk and manipulate if you want some crazy, trippy stuff happening in the middle of the mix.

You play acoustic, but you're really into effects and have a substantial pedalboard. Can you maybe run me through your rig?

Sure, and give away all my secrets.

Well, we appreciate that. Thanks!

I've gradually been building an arsenal of pedals. There are a lot of logistics involved in splitting my guitar signal through two different electric guitar amplifiers, plus a bass amplifier, plus I play three different guitars. The solution to keeping all of that straight is going to an MXR A/B/C splitter so that I can switch between three different guitars without having to plug in a different guitar during the middle of a set.

Parmet's Pedalboard

That goes into this tuner and then into this pre-amp that I bought when I got these Sunrise pickups — great magnetic, custom pickups designed for acoustic guitars — which is a big help for getting that louder, more biting sound, yet still retaining some of that acoustic guitar integrity. That preamp has two outputs; one goes through to the guitar amps and the other hits a compressor and EQ to try to filter out some of those higher guitar sounds before it hits the bass amp [an Ampeg SVT-3 PRO]. It should make it sound as much like a bass as possible since we don't have a bassist.

Even while streaming the song "Doing it Right," I was impressed by the extended low end. And to have that "Magic Bus" percussion up top, that was surprising.

Parmet's Yamaha Acoustics

Thank you. Some of those mixes did come together quite well, I think.

What kind of guitars do you have? What are your amps?

I'm playing just old cheap Yamaha guitars from the late '70s, early '80s. They're not expensive, nice guitars or anything like that. I just randomly came across one and they have this indestructible feel to them. They’re great for the road. After filling the guitars with some t-shirts and old clothing, I was able to fight the feedback issues related to playing at such loud volumes.

Parmet's Matchless SC30 & '70s Fender Twin Reverb

That goes into a Matchless SC30, and I’m running that along with a late '70s Fender Twin Reverb. The Matchless has a great punchy clarity to it. It has a great dirty channel and great clean channel. And the Twin just has that really warm sound and I run other pedals through it as well.

The most sought-after pedal on my board is this Boss analog delay DM-2, that old pink pedal that I think they discontinued in the early '80s. That adds a lot of warmth to some of the bigger sonic landscapes that we go for.

With all of that firepower behind you and with the pedals, how did you decide to play an acoustic guitar through all of that? I mean you could just as easily play a Stratocaster at that point.

I did grow up on a Stratocaster. When we started The Yawpers, it was more of a rootsy, folky kind of thing with acoustic guitars. Nate [Cook, Yawpers frontman] and I were writing in open tunings, and it had kind of that Delta blues influence to it. That stuff just works on an acoustic guitar.

Very quickly we became a loud rock ‘n’ roll band, but we never put down the acoustic guitars. It kind of became our thing and I was able to find a way to keep up with the intensity of drummers going full out and Nate going full out on vocals. It worked well, especially with the slide. It seems to fill up more of that frequency spectrum. When we're setting up at a gig with our acoustic guitars, it can be a little misleading.

I'm sure it blows more than a couple minds. In “Beale Street,” specifically, I hear mandolin and fiddles and slide whistles. Who's playing what on that song?

Nate is playing a kind of bizarre instrument that we had to cut from our set because it's temperamental. It's a tenor 12-string guitar, basically. So keeping that thing in tune was a bitch. It just filled in that range of a mandolin. Then we beefed that up in the studio with an actual mandolin, played by [co-producer] Johnny Hickman, just doubling that riff that you hear. Then it seemed to be going in that bluegrass direction pretty heavily, and then we added Josh Lee, a friend of ours, on fiddle to outline that basic riff.

Did you go to music school or did you come from a musical family? How'd you become a player?

I'm not from a particularly musical family. My parents aren't musicians, but they love playing music in the house. I did go to music school for a few years at Berkeley in Boston. As long as I can remember, it's just been something that I'm kind of obsessed with. I don't see any other possible path for me. I'm in too deep at this point. It's not like there's anything else that I'm qualified for.

The Yawpers - "9 to 5" (Live at JITV HQ in Los Angeles, CA)

The Yawpers - "Doing It Right" (909 in Studio)

I thought I heard lap steel on the record in places. Is that what I hear?

We've used one on a couple of tracks in the studio; "3 A.M." in particular is the one that comes to mind. You hear more of that psychedelic, washy, droney stuff going on. Most of what I do is right from the Yamaha acoustic guitars for slide.

What kind of lap steel do you play?

It's an old Airline. I’ve had it for years. I found it in a pawnshop and thought that one day I might be able to do something with it. It took years. I didn't come up as a slide player. It happened accidentally with The Yawpers because it seemed to be the only way to deliver a lead line on acoustic guitar and have any balls to it.

There seems to be a mini-resurgence of slide.

I don't know if it ever really stopped. The North Mississippi Allstars have been doing that for years. Luther Dickinson is incredible. There's also Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band, who I always like to mention. He's a guy who's doing great finger-style acoustic slide stuff in a rock 'n' roll, punk-rock setting, as we are.

You guys take that LOUD-quiet-LOUD thing very seriously. Who are some of your other influences?

Hendrix, Zeppelin, Beatles, Rolling Stones, the staples. That's what I grew up on. But in more recent times there's Daniel Lanois.

That's a name I wouldn't have expected to hear. He's so atmospheric, and you guys are so raucous.

He does have a sort of energy. I've seen him in concert before. The way he attacks that guitar sometimes has a manic energy to it. Plus he's a great slide player: more pedal steel. But mostly I'm just a feel kind of guy, like J.J. Cale and R.L. Burnside, who was a great, droney, rhythmic player.

I saw R.L. Burnside in ‘97 at the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam. He was a trip; he looked like he'd been dropped off by a UFO. He was terrific, backed by his grandson on drums and Jon Spencer of the Blues Explosion.

Oh, yeah. So they were playing that heavier stuff from Ass Pocket Full of Whiskey. That record was definitely an influence on what we go for sonically.

On your new record, you recorded to tape, went to ProTools and then back to tape. Take me through the process and the thinking.

Otari MTR 90/3 2" 24 Tape Machine

We'd run through a 10-song set in 45 minutes, so in the first two days we had our basic tracks taped. The studio that we worked at has a device called CLASP [Closed Loop Analog Signal Processor] that syncs their tape machine to Pro Tools. It's almost like using the tape machine as a pre-amp; although it is getting recorded through the tape machine. We were just using one reel for the whole session. We weren't going to go back and overdub stuff on this 16-track, 2-inch tape machine. We were just letting it roll and getting that sound of tape instead of having to go through the extra step of dumping it into Pro Tools; it was just happening in real time. Then we were able to do overdubs using the tape machine as well, just like you're tracking in Pro Tools pretty much, but going through a tape machine first. It works pretty well. It was analog but with the ease of digital.

What's the effect on the sound from that process?

Our thinking is that with analog is that there's some kind of magic to tape, especially with the drums and the lower frequencies. I'd say even on guitar. It seems to take out some of the harshness, some of those higher frequencies. It seems to add a more balanced sound. Maybe it's something that our ears are accustomed to, with all of the records that I loved that were recorded to tape in the '60s and '70s. Even nowadays a lot of records still are. It's just an aesthetic that we wanted to go for.

You guys sound like you're big fans of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.

They're a huge influence. When I first heard their record Howl I became an instant fan. You kind of nailed it. It's definitely one of the big ones for me. I think T Bone Burnett had some involvement in the production of that record. It's a fantastic record. I like their more straight-ahead rock stuff as well. I've seen them live a couple of times. They're a great hard-working band. I'm a fan.

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