When Hairy Met Silly: Ben Chasny & Major Stars

posted September 1st, 2009

Drag City brings you a conversation between Ben Chasny of Six Organs of Admittance and Wayne Rogers & Kate Village of the legendary Boston group Major Stars!

Six Organs of Admittance have just released a new album Luminous Night ; Major Stars released Mirror Messenger in 2007 and are currently working on new material. Wayne and Kate also run the venerable Boston record store Twisted Village.

BEN: First with the geeky tech questions for those who want to know: What guitarist(s) made you two want to pick up the guitar in the first place?

WAYNE: Johnny Ramone, then Otis Rush and Yardbird-era Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton (Page not so much).

KATE: I desperately wanted a piano but that was a not going to happen. So I saved up birthday $$ and bought an acoustic when I was 17.

BEN: What gauge strings do you guys use? And what kind of wah pedals? What distortion pedals. Basically, what can you reveal about your set ups?

WAYNE: I use Dean Markley 9's when I can get 'em. I break heavier gauge strings like uncooked spaghetti. Whatever fuzzbox Kate's not using at the moment (I think I have her Danelectro right now), Vox wah, DOD equalizer for mid-range boost during solos. That's it. I'm not much of a pedal guy.

KATE: Whatever is in the box of strings that is closest to the broken string. Sometimes, they ain't so close. Well, I was using two wah pedals and then Wayne broke yet another one and I let him borrow one, then, well you know, he broke that one so I'll let you guess where mine went, so I swiped a Dan Electro thing from Dougan and actually quite like it. I used a yellow boss digital delay pedal for yeeeears - it got stolen with a bunch of our pedals after a show. I must have went through a half dozen or more distortion pedals. I bitched and moaned about each one and would return it for a different one that failed for me until Tom popped into a pawn shop while we were in Seattle and came running out with the news that they had my pedal!! That was a grand day. When the battery is running low, or my set up is hot, or there's a loose connection, or it's a month with five Thursdays it gives a great helicopter sound that drives everyone in the band to distraction. Somehow, ahem, the battery cable got unglued or whatever so I dug out a distortion pedal that remained un-returned deep in the bottom of my effects bag. I slog it around everywhere but I don't actually plug it in to the set-up. That's the key to my sound. I also usually manage to plug in a silver box that looks like it has plague blisters from a decade of beer being dumped on it. You can just about make out it is a Hughes and Kettner Rotosphere.

My guitar is a mid-60's Guild F50 semi-hollow body.

I am in a constant state of distress because I could use a more powerful amp but, like my pedals, I've been through a bunch of amps I don't like. I ended up getting exactly the same amp after a year of trying to make other ones work for my sound, which was started because I kept blowing my speaker. At least I'm predictable-snort!

My effects bag is "Stuff by Hillary Duff." It came with a CD holder.

I use a light grey nylon pick that hasn't been in stock in a while at our local music shop so I am forced into Guitar Center to buy them. Wayne's pick is even paler grey.

I like when the person standing in front of me covers their ears when they see me going for a pedal. Lots of duct tape helps Wayne not kick out his cords, my cords, Tom's cords etc. I have my amp repair guy on speed dial. The band recently had an intervention for me because they find my broken grill fabric on my amp inappropriate. I didn't know anyone, nevermind everyone, had such strong feelings about my amp styling.

BEN: (Sorry for the self-referential start to this one) So I was on tour a while ago and I was playing a solo and getting into it and sometimes I do this stance that I ripped off of Wayne, where you sort of play a solo and your feet slide out apart, sort of like doing the splits. When I was done, a dude commented that I was doing a "Jimmy Page." I was thinking, what the hell is he talking about; I got that from Wayne Rogers. I wanted to ask if Page is where you got that particular stance for solos?

WAYNE: No, I didn't realize Page did that. I actually started doing that on solos to get some distance between me and my setup...I hate going to shows and seeing some dude just standing over his pedals, so I generally use a "wide stance" (to quote Larry Craig) whenever I need to use the wah pedal. Probably a bit of Johnny Ramone in there as well, Billy Zoom does it too....childhood heroes both.

BEN: Any more plans for B.O.R.B. recordings or duo recordings of you two? I really love those! Heathen Shame as well. Heathen Shame at the first De Stijl fest was slaughtering. What have you guys got cooking up besides Major Stars? Also, the last Wayne Rogers LP, Infinite For Now, totally rules. I think you should do a box set of the solo records on vinyl. What do you say?

WAYNE: We're planning a Heathen Shame live-in-the-studio-with-audience album, TG "Heathen Earth" style (coincidence???). The Kate & I duo has expanded to a trio lately, with hardcore drummer Chris Strunk. We've done shows but no recordings yet.

BEN: Back to Wayne's moves. There is also a classic move of Wayne's that starts with the feet sliding out farther and farther like mentioned above, sort of like a rocket fueling up for take-off, and then you spring up and jump into the air and then start careening around the stage twirling around doing a solo, but spinning like a top and then it all ends with you falling over on your back, all the while never missing a note. I was wondering, do you do this in the studio when recording as well? How important is the kenetic energy to the solos? Sub Question: did you ever break-dance?

WAYNE: I'm not entirely sure what this move sounds awesome though! I try to stay still when recording, but often can't.....I remember taking a backwards header through a 6 foot recording baffle at the BBC once. The stuffy British engineers were not amused. I do find that moving around helps block out outside factors while playing: audience/venue weirdness, general self-consciousness. So it definitely has an effect. Completely missed the breakdance craze I'm afraid.

KATE: Umm, I know these are for Wayne but I thought you'd like to know Naomi Yang has a name for when Wayne jumps in the air and lands on his back and slides around. She calls it "The Bug."

Sometimes I try to stay out of his roving path but, other times, the best defense is a good offense. Unfortunately for me, his guitar is lined with lead. That thing hurts when it lands on my forehead!

BEN: How did Willimantic, CT influence your jams?

WAYNE: We got louder. Woods will do that to you.

KATE: Where?

BEN: Last question, why are you guys so scared of coming out and touring the west coast? Are you afraid of the guitarists out here? Too shredding for you?

WAYNE: Time and money: eternal twin enemies.

KATE: I think Wayne is now terrified you'd try to teach him to bust some break dance moves.

Artists in this story: Six Organs of Admittance, Major Stars