No Use for a Name, a four piece hardcore outfit, was formed in 1987 and has since released nine albums. Tony Sly and Rory Koff formed the band, followed by a succession of lead guitarists. The current line-up with Matt Riddle on bass and Dave Nassie on guitar has broadened the band's sound while preserving their impact and power. Guitar Center caught up with Tony Sly to chat about guitars, amps, and recording live albums.
GC: What guitars do you use and why?
Tony: Basically I have two guitars that I use live. One I just keep for dropped D-Tuning and the other one is just for regular tuning, but they're both Les Pauls. One is a White Custom, I think it's a '96 and the other one is a '93 Standard, Tobacco Burst.
GC: What kind of amps do you run those through?
Tony: Mesa Boogie. I use a Dual Rectifier that I bought in 1995 and I've had it modified from Mesa just about every year it seems like--they put it up to the newest Dual Rectifier design. I use that through a Mesa Boogie cabinet, a 4x12 with Celestion 30 speakers. And then I have a six-space rack mount, in which four spaces are taken up by the Dual Rectifier. The other two spaces are taken up by a Korg DTR1 tuner and a Furman power conditioner. So, that's all I run. I don't use any pedals or effects.
GC: When you record, do you use any pedals or effects?
Tony: Oh yeah, we experiment with a lot of different effects. On our last album we used a Big Muff pedal for a couple of songs. We used so many different things. We experimented with Line 6 PODs for guitar tone. There were so many things in the studio. A whole bunch of effects, not so much pedals but just through the rack.
A cool thing we did recently is we used a Smokey amp (those little guitar amps that look like a pack of cigarettes). We used one of those for a guitar tone on a song that we did on the newest Fat Wreck Chords compilation. The intro and the middle part were recorded through a Shure SM 57 and that's basically it. So that's how we got the sound. It came out sounding pretty cool. It's a really small sound, but it just came out sounding really cool.
GC: Is that something that you guys rely on a producer for or do you guys generally get together and think about different stuff you want to do?
Tony: We came up with that idea ourselves, but we do usually have a producer working on our projects with us. He'll come up with a lot of stuff, too, because he's in the studio messing around with the gear when we don't get to it as much. Right now I'm borrowing a Line 6 POD from the producer of our next record, Ryan Greene. I've been experimenting with a lot of different sounds on that and coming up with some things. So we might not necessarily use the POD sounds, but emulate the sounds that we're getting on our demos through real amps by the time we get to the studio.
GC: Are you doing that through a home studio?
Tony: Yeah, through Pro Tools. In the home studio, it's basically just Pro Tools. I don't use a mixer--I just use the Pro Tools mixer. For my guitar tones, I use the Line 6 POD. For my drum machine, I have a little Yamaha that I use and that's it--I play bass on it and I sing into an AKG C 3000, which is more of a studio mic. I use an AKG D 58 for live.
GC: How did you get started playing guitar?
Tony: I got started playing guitar when I was 12 years old and basically because my mom bought me a guitar for my birthday. I had taken piano lessons when I was a little kid. What I wanted for that birthday was a keyboard and instead she bought me a guitar, so I learned how to play that. That's what got me into it. I guess I owe a lot of credit to my mom. Also, I think just the punk rock scene back then was what I was getting into. Talk about easy songs to play when you're learning! After that, I took some lessons for about six months and learned the basics like scales and all the chords that I could. I've taken it on my own from there.
GC: What were some of the bands that influenced you?
Tony: Social Distortion, Agent Orange, Suicidal Tendencies, Adolescents, the Descendents - a lot of the southern California punk bands back then!
GC: What's the coolest recent addition to your setup?
Tony: My pickups. We have an endorsement with Seymour Duncan and we just started getting pickups from them. This last year I've been using Jeff Beck pickups and it has improved my sound by I don't know, ten times! They're awesome!
GC: Does it give you better distortion?
Tony: It gives me better everything. Your sound just becomes so right up front, so prominent. It just doesn't sound like there's too much distance between what you're playing and the amp. It's just a really prominent sound. The chords just ring through like you wouldn't believe. I'm really into those pickups right now.
GC: What's the next thing you'd like to get?
Tony: Well, I could never have enough guitars! I only have two. I'd love to buy a Les Paul, but the prices are kind of ridiculous now. I think that the next thing on my wish list would probably be a new cabinet. I've had my cabinet for awhile now and it's been great. It's been like a total tour machine, but it's a mess right now from playing so many shows. It's just beat. The speakers are always blown out. What I'm thinking about getting is a new updated version of the Dual Rectifier cabinet from Mesa Boogie.
GC: Do you practice a lot? What is your practice regimen?
Tony: Well I'd say our lead guitar player, Dave, practices a lot more than I do and his regimen is insane! He practices for about four hours a day. He'll listen to anything and play along with anything from jazz to Slayer. He is pretty gnarly. I get my practice when I'm writing songs. I kind of learn as I write, so that's an interesting way. I'll sit down and I'll jam. I'll basically just look at a chord book, like a Beatles book or something like that and play those songs to death so that I know every chord out there. There's always one in the Beatles catalog that pops up and I'm like, "what the hell is this?" So, I'm always up for a challenge when it comes to that kind of stuff. I'm more of a rhythm player, more of a chord guy, where Dave kind of takes the lead. I don't sit there and try to play Eruption and Hendrix all day.
GC: Do you guys warm up before shows together or just jump on stage and go from there?
Tony: I don't warm up my guitar so much. I concentrate on my voice more. Dave and our bass player, Matt, will sit there and play their guitars backstage. I'll mainly concentrate on my voice. I give it a half-hour and do some scales. I'll get my voice warmed-up because that's more important to me because like I said, I'm a rhythm guitar player. Since we have a second guitar player we make it so that I have to do as little as possible so I can concentrate on singing.
GC: Say I'm an intermediate player and I already have the basic setup and I want to expand, what's the next thing I should get to improve my sound?
Tony: I'd say pickups. I'd say a Seymour Duncan, Jeff Beck pickup. It's awesome. It's a great pickup!
GC: Does the band have a song writing routine or do you write all the stuff yourself?
Tony: I do write all the stuff myself, but when we come together, we do collaborate on arrangement for the song and get things done that way.
GC: What about your most memorable live show?
Tony: I'd say it's when we recorded part of our live album in Los Angeles at The Palace last year because we were so scared about recording a live album--you can't really afford to mess up. The challenge was so cool and the crowd was so cool, they were so into it because it was going to be a live album. It was just an amazing show. Right now that one sticks out in my mind the most.
GC: What exactly goes into making a live CD?
Tony: I don't know how other bands do it, but we rented a mobile truck out of L.A. and they came out with their truck and we had our usual producer, Ryan Greene, record it in the truck. What happened is, we sat there in San Francisco and we recorded the show and tried to play different songs on both nights so that there were takes of different songs. We also recorded some songs at sound check in case we really messed up, but fortunately we didn't have to use any of those. It's just a lot of mic'ing and a lot of trying to figure out your sounds. It's such a different thing because the way the amplifiers and the drums react to the ambience of a big room like The Palace is so much different than being isolated in a studio. You have to compensate for a lot of that by mic'ing the crowd and bringing in crowd noise so that it sounds live because it does have a studio quality to it because they were mic'ed. I think on our live album, you do hear the ambience of the room. I think that's the best thing about live albums. If you crank it up loud enough you kind of get the feeling like you're at the show.
GC: Did you guys strictly go with what you had recorded live or did you go back and re-dub any stuff?
Tony: We did a couple of vocal things on a couple of songs that were extremely out of key. There was one time in San Francisco where the mic got knocked over so there was just nothing there and there was one time when our drummer dropped the sticks so there was nothing there. So yeah, we went back in the studio to correct a couple of that stuff for about two days and then we spent a good five or six days mixing it, which turned out to be the most important thing in doing a live album. Mixing is important because you have things going on all over the place: you have the ambience of the room, sounds, mic bleeding, guitars on bass tracks, and bass on drum tracks - It's crazy! You've got to go in and do a lot of mutes on stops. You've got to put compressors and gates on everything. So that part of it was pretty much the gnarliest part as far as the recording process because it was so all over the place. In the end I think it turned out to be a tight sounding record.
GC: Did any research go into picking the venues that you picked?
Tony: We picked The Palace because it was just a good venue for us to play at the time since it was on our tour. We were going to play San Francisco and we were going to play L.A and then the idea came up to do the live album in San Francisco and L.A. In San Francisco it was at Slims and it's a great sounding place. On the other hand, The Palace in L.A. isn't that great sounding as far as the room goes. We didn't really concern ourselves too much with that. We just wanted to make sure it was a good venue so we could get the crowd to come up to a really solid energy for the live recording. Not much thought went into the venue.
GC: What advice do you have for a young player who might want to model their career after yours?
Tony: For us, it was a pretty long road. At one point in my life I had to make a decision whether I wanted to do this or just go into school and do something else. I'd have to say that's the hardest part about it. If you think you have something, like good songs, and you think that it can be done, then I'd say go with it because the world, especially right now, needs more musicians and more good music.
GC: How has being on an indie label been for you guys? Have you ever thought about breaking out and trying to go big?
Tony: I think for us, we have a really good relationship with Fat Wreck Chords. It's very down to earth. When we do business, it's really just us and the label. We try not to involve lawyers and managers and things like that too much. It's a really cool, down to earth process for us. Of course we've thought, "what if the opportunity came along?" What if a major label came along and said, "we want you to do this and here's what we can do for you." I suppose it depends on which label it was and what they were offering. I'm not just talking about money; I'm talking about distribution, advertising, and promotion. All of that stuff comes into play. Fat Wreck Chords' best interest, every time we put out a record, is to go as far as they can with it and I appreciate that. A lot of major labels might not be willing to go the extra mile for a band that they don't think is going to do as well as someone like Janet Jackson. We're happy with our independent label right now, but at the same time we're not totally like, "we're going to be on Fat Wreck Chords for the rest of our lives and that's it." We always keep the door open as far as that goes.
GC: Have you or do you shop at Guitar Center?
Tony: Yeah I do. What I like about Guitar Center is they have everything. I can just go there any time I want and I pretty much know they're going to have everything. It's kind of like that one-stop-shop thing where if you need a bunch of stuff, you can pick it all up. It's kind of like the Costco of music, so to speak! We have a Guitar Center in Sacramento now so I've been going to that one.