For the better part of two decades, the Vandals have been playing punk rock in Orange County and the rest of the world. Recently Guitar Center's Ana Garcia had a chance to speak to guitarist Warren Fitzgerald about the secrets of the Vandals success and longevity, the punk scene, his guitars and making records.
GC: What do you like about Ernie Ball Guitars?
Fitzgerald: There's a couple of things I like about them. First of all, they don't break! I've played tons of different guitars for my whole life. I've gone through like 12 necks from just a bunch of different companies. The Ernie Balls, they just don't break. You can pretty much throw them off a building and they, play fine the next day. I don't know how they do that, but they're pretty happening. The other thing I like about them is that they're kind of smaller than your normal-size guitar and and I'm kinda short, so it makes me not look like a midget!
I use the Axis Sport and there are a few different variations, like I have a Floyd Rose, one with a regular tremolo, one with no tremolo, one with two humbuckers, one with one humbucker, one with two single-coils...I have pretty much all the variations of it.
GC: You have a pretty straight-forward sound. Do you use any effects or pedals or do you just use the sound of your amp?
Fitzgerald: Generally live I use the amp but in the studio I use all sorts of different stuff. There's, there's a few different pedals and effects units that I specifically really like. Like the digitech whammy pedal is fun because it's got some, some sounds that you can't get anywhere else. The TC Electronics Fireworks, has some pretty amazing stuff on it. I haven't even begun to use everything on it! It's, got some really cool, like tremolos and really bizarre effects. It's kind of like the Eventide 3000 except it's way wackier!
GC: What kind of amp do you use?
Fitzgerald: I generally use a Peavey 5150 and, uh, it's fine, but I, I also, have a Boogie Triaxis in the studio and a Dual Rectifier and different Marshalls. In the studio I use all sorts of different amps, but what I'm using live is mostly for functionality. When your touring, if the stuff breaks it's a real nightmare. Especially if you're in Europe or somewhere like that and something messes up. I mean its hard enough to try to find a decent meal there, much less a very specific guitar part or an amp tube or something like that, you know.
GC: What's the coolest thing that you've added to your set-up lately?
Fitzgerald: Uh, probably the coolest thing is a really long cable! But I wouldn't mind running a couple more cabinets or something. Because on the club level, the sound is a lot more inconsistent. You never know what the monitors are going to be like and this and that. Like on a big tour like the Warped Tour, the No Doubt tour or the Offspring tour, something like that, everything's pretty much perfect. But having another cabinet would be great to guarantee that I can hear myself.
GC: Do you have a home studio?
Fitzgerald: I have an ADAT and a Tascam board. I also have a hard disk digital editing system that runs Cubase and I've got a Sonora sound card that runs things back and forth from the ADAT to the computer or also to a DAT for mixdown. I've got a pretty extensive MIDI set up with a lot of sound modules like an Emu Proteus, Korg NS5R and Alesis S4 Plus sound module. I've got a couple of Roland sound modules too, the ones with the cards that you can kind of adapt. When we do our records I demo all the songs here. I put it down and usually MIDI any miscellaneous other sounds that are going to be used on it. We often end up transferring the ADAT demo to two-inch tape and then about half the time the drummer ends up playing to a click to the scratch tracks I did at home.
GC: So do you have any other wish list pieces?
Fitzgerald: Well I just got the Nord Lead 2 and that's a great keyboard! It's got some crazy sounds and stuff like that. I do some movie scores too and I just got a whole collection of orchestral sample CDs which are kind of cool. I generally always want more sound modules. I like the Roland groove boxes. I wouldn't mind getting the 20 bit Adat, the XT20, I've been thinking about that. Especially now that my hard disk I can do 24 bit. There's a lot of stuff...the list goes on and on!
GC: You mentioned movie scores. Can you tell us about that?
Fitzgerald: I've done a few independent films. And I've played guitar of Danny Elfman's scores. It's just a completely different thing. I like it a lot because, although you can incorporate guitar, usually most of it is written on keyboard and the guitar additions are written after the fact. Usually guitar parts I can get in my head so I don't have to pick up a guitar to write them. It's the more ambient stuff, the more out-there stuff that I like to write on keyboard.
GC: Do you practice a lot?
Fitzgerald: I practiced a lot when I was younger. In late high school and a couple years after that. This was in the late mid '80s when heavy metal was huge and every song had huge technical guitar solo (not that I wanted anything to do with that!) But I would practice until I could do that so I wouldn't feel like they had anything on me! Now it's gotten to the point where I have a guitar in my hand so often, performing or recording, that practicing seems to be kind of redundant. It usually only takes me a few minutes to get back anything chops-wise I might lose from not playing all day long every day.
GC: How does new material get written for the band?
Fitzgerald: Everyone writes, but on the new record I wrote the majority of the songs. I like writing write lyrics too, so I'll get a skeletal structure of a song or an idea or concept or title and the singer will come down, and I'll go, "Okay, is this too stupid or embarrassing for you to sing?" And he'll go, "Yeah." Then I'll say, "How about this? How about this?" And we'll work something out. So I'll demo it, and sing a scratch vocal. Then I'll have the drum sequence down there playing off the sound module and we'll discuss it. This record was actually completely unique in that we actually went in and rehearsed. I demoed the songs then we all went in and rehearsed. We spent a couple of weeks doing that, fine tuning a couple of arrangements here and there. Generally when we've done our records in the past it's been a real drawn-out process because of touring and stuff like that. The last record we did took nine or ten months and there were like three or four tours in between. So we'd be home and we'd book a few days at the studio. You know, go in and get as many drum tracks done as fast as possible. Between like Josh Freese and Dave Quackenbush they are both ridiculous! You can play them something once and they can go in and nail it! Which is great! It makes it much easier. But you know we usually do it like that. We'll go to Europe for four weeks and come back and say, "So where were we?" On this new record we did a solid block, the way normal bands do it, which is interesting. Two and a half weeks of tracking. We went in there, hired a specific engineer who's got great organizational skills and labeling skills that really come in handy later on in the process. Went in there with nice gear for the more specific things and got a 12-hour day, 6 days a week for two and a half weeks!
GC: What guitars did you use on this album?
Fitzgerald: I used my Ernie Balls on this album. I also used a couple of vintage guitars, like a '54 Telecaster on some of it...60s Les Paul. There were a couple of gear-renting people, up in Hollywood of course, and they brought in what they claimed were their top-notch studio guitars. And they just sounded great actually!
GC: How did you pick the songs for the new album? Do you have any favorites?
Fitzgerald: That's a difficult process. I produce the records also so my involvement is that any second that anything's being done on this record I'm there. So the perspective is kind of difficult. It's hard to say, "This is a great song!" especially if you wrote it, but you wrote ten others and you heard it four thousand times, you know what I mean? Generally it's pretty democratic. There's also the concept that we have this song but it's too similar to another song that's already on the record. It's always difficult when you have songs left over, trying to figure out which ones aren't going to make it.
We just toured Europe and Canada and we didn't play any of the new songs live. We figured we would just wait until the album comes out. But I do have a favorite track and there are some that showcase stuff guitar-wise, some cleverness, some obnoxious type of guitar music stuff, some neat sounds... Behind The Music is one that is particularly my favorite, and The New You is another one I like. I like the songs that have quiet intros and then get really loud!
GC: Do you warm up before a performance?
Fitzgerald: Usually I will drink beer and that's about it! There's all sorts of bands that have a little circle prayer or bands that have little calisthenics they do and stuff like that. For me personally... I started touring with a punk band like at 15 so I'm not sure how many shows it's been.... dozens and dozens... But we'll practice a little bit. The drummer puts tape on his hands to stop blisters....and I generally stumble out on stage once the lights go down.
GC: What advice do you have for ambitious young bands or musicians?
Fitzgerald: Well there's a couple things. Be (or attempt to be) prolific. We've basically put out a record out every year, or year and a half for the past five years. As soon as we're done doing a record we're thinking about the next one. Keep putting it out there. Be persistent! If what you are doing is good and it's appealing to people, you know, you've just got to do the leg-work involved. And that would just be touring and whatever. It's part of being a musician. I would say just get as educated as you can about every aspect of music. Whether that's having an understanding of contracts or music theory or the break down of the budget of a show. It's all the type of things that will prevent you from going crazy from having no control or understanding of what the hell is going on around you. The funny thing is that you could be super-duper talented and nothing could ever happen. Or you could be kind of stinky and not so good and for some reason, the timing is right or whatever. There is so much luck involved that there's no specific thing that works. That's just life. Make yourself kind of worthy of people having interest in you and don't think that what you're doing is great just because you're the one doing it. Because, quite often, it's not great! I know that applies to me personally!
GC: How do The Vandals fit into the scheme of punk rock music?
Fitzgerald: The one specific thing that we have is that we're not political. It's just fun. It's supposed to be humorous. Generally most of the stuff we do is funny to us and if people think it's funny too, that's kind of the vibe you know? Punk rock is such a bizarre thing because of how long it's been around. My theory is there will always be punk kids. There are fourteen-year-old kids that come to our shows now whose parents were the first generation of punk people. It almost seems wrong that the kids would be listening to the same music their parents are listening to. It's not going away, as long as they are kids that want to have their own identity, it will always be there. Just like there will always be goth kids. It's just this weird attraction to anyone who's kind of disenfranchised and doesn't really want to fit into the normal cliques at their school or whatever.
GC: Got it. Do you shop at Guitar Center?
Fitzgerald: For all kinds of stuff! For my studio, recording, producing bands or working at home or anything. You really don't have any other options. That is the place to go. Especially as far as pro audio stuff...the fact is that everything is there. The only thing I have a problem with is all the drum sets there because...I feel sorry for the people that work there! That's got to be torture! It's almost like day care! People drop off their kids just to beat up the drums all day! But they basically have everything I'm looking for: DAT tapes, ADAT tapes, cables, or anything. I go there a shocking amount, probably once a week on average!